Focusing on new research and access to forgotten pictures, The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950 documents the importance of these years in shaping Gordon Parks’ passionate vision. The book brings together photographs and publications made during the first and most formative decade of his 65-year career.
During the 1940s Parks’ photographic ambitions grew to express a profound understanding of his social, cultural and political experiences. From the first photographs he published in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and his relationship to the Chicago Black Renaissance, to his mentorship with Roy Stryker and his breakthrough work for America’s influential picture magazines—including Ebonyand Life—this book traces Parks’ rapid evolution from an accomplished, self-taught practitioner to a groundbreaking artistic and journalistic voice.
Co-published with the Gordon Parks Foundation and the National Gallery of Art
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The wartime decade of the 1940s in the United States is defined by paradox—celebrations of national pride and the flourishing of a Black cultural renaissance alongside heightened frustrations over segregation and discrimination in the armed forces and at home. … It is impossible, even incorrect, to offer an account of the extreme marriage of racism and representation in 1940s America without noting that the decade was witness … to violent acts of racial terror against American citizens, including lynching, tolerated by state and federal officials—methods meant to reinforce racial inequity. … It is not incidental that during the tumultuous and culturally vibrant decade of the 1940s, Gordon Parks transformed himself from a self-taught photographer to one of the most prominent practitioners in the field of documentary photojournalism. The 1940s charged him to develop visual idioms that created the new narratives needed to enlarge the idea of who counts in the American body politic, compositional templates to which photographers still refer for their foundational work.
Excerpts from “Introduction: Young Gordon Parks”, Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940-1950
On February 26, 1949, the New York Press Club, Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), and Life magazine threw a celebratory party at the New Yorker Hotel for their renowned photographer Gordon Parks, who was sailing that night for Europe on the Queen Mary. Two days before, he had been named staff photographer at Life, the first African American to reach this summit, and he was off on a “two and a half month assignment to photograph fashions . . . in Paris and the Riviera.” Among the hundreds of friends, journalists, artists, writers, and photographers there to see him off were reporter Earl Brown, art editor Tina Fredericks, and Parks’s sometime collaborator Ralph Ellison. Parks had already been shooting Life assignments for months, and the significant public response to his intimate photo essay “Harlem Gang Leader,” on the challenges facing a seventeen-year-old Black youth named Leonard “Red” Jackson, cemented his position as one of the most skilled and focused documentary photographers in the business.
Excerpt from “Gordon Parks: The Sphere of Conscious History”, Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940-1950