Crime, 1957 - Photography Archive - The Gordon Parks Foundation

Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

In 1957, Life assigned Parks to illustrate a recurring series of articles on crime in the United States. The editors wanted to examine not only rising rates of criminal misconduct but also the perceived lack of response to such activity. Parks embarked on a six-week journey that took him and a reporter, Henry Suydam, to the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Many of Parks’s images are low-lit, with figures shown in shadow, reflected in mirrors or windows, and blurred in motion. Later Parks vividly described episodes from this assignment, most notably traveling with two ethically questionable Chicago policemen as they went on drug raids, and the chilling execution of convicted murderer Thomas L. Johnston at San Quentin.

After a preview of the series in the September 2 issue of Life, the first full-length article was published on September 9, 1957. The introductory image in the article is of a man’s face in silhouette as he speaks into a radio transceiver while sitting in a car. The only light entering the frame is a soft white glow cut with blue and red circles on the rain-spotted windshield beyond the figure. This dark image typifies the gloomy, grainy style of the entire series


Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Raiding Detectives, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Detectives Grilling a Suspect, Chicago, Illinois, 1957 

Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Untitled, New York, New York, 1957

Crime Suspect with Gun, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Drug Search, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Victim of a Knife Attack, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Police Raid, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Knifing Victim I, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Cops Bring In Knifing Victim, Chicago, Illinois, 1967

Police Bring in Victim, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Heroin User, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Narcotics Addict, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Shooting Victim in Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Fingerprinting Addicts for Forging Prescription, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Morgue Photos of Dope Peddler Killed by Cops, Chicago, Illinois, 1967

Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Untitled, San Quentin, California, 1957

Pre-Execution Order, San Quentin, California, 1957