Injustice, violence, the rise of the American civil rights movement, high fashion and the arts—Gordon Parks captured half a century of the vast changes to the American cultural landscape in his multi-faceted career. I AM YOU: Selected Works, 1934–1978 reveals the breadth of his work as the first African American photographer for Vogue and Life magazines as well as a filmmaker, and as a writer.
Reportage for major magazines dominated Parks’ work from 1948 to 1972. He chronicled black America’s struggle for equality, exposing the harsh realities of life in Harlem, institutionalized racism, and shocking poverty. Parks was equally accomplished as a portraitist, capturing figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King alongside entertainers including Duke Ellington and Ingrid Bergman. He turned his attention to film in the 1960s with social documentaries as well as the now cult classic Shaft (1971).
This book traces the threads of Parks’ achievements, examining his multi-layered oeuvre through the interaction between his photographic and filmic visions.
Co-published with The Gordon Parks Foundation and C/O Berlin
Link to Steidl
Organizational and compositional concerns governed by both photography and film manifest themselves in Parks’ work. The small-image negatives and the 35mm movie material point to analogies in their physical materiality, and evoke the historical development of the 35mm camera. Their materiality may be associated with two essential principles already noted in regard to “Harlem Gang Leader”: series and sequence. Series are defined by images combined with one another; in a collage, for instance, or a mosaic, a story is created using images from different narratives. The images have (or may have) developed independently of one another, but their result is a unified narration. Sequences demonstrate a distinctly cinematic aspect, based on time. The images relay an idea of connected moments, of a before and after.
If we think of the material of negatives or film as rectangular or square, the pattern is a grid. The rhythm of this image grid, in its structure of horizontal and vertical lines, as a paradigm of modern art can be considered a fundamental reference… Parks’ film grid or contact sheets can be interpreted as a sequence of an “implicit continuity”: the composition of the image refers no longer solely to a single image but now to a connection of the singular elements. Parks’ images maintain continuity not just intrinsically, as film strips or parts of a contact sheet, but also as part of the narrative of a magazine or a film. The idea of continuity (as a series or sequence) always refers to more, to an outer structure, complexity, and external meaning; beyond what we have been shown and what has been published are more images…“Harlem Gang Leader” and Flavio, like Gordon Parks’ career, demonstrate that photography was for him not a self-contained medium; cinematic concerns were just as significant.
Excerpts from “Sequence and Series: Photographic and Filmic Thinking by Gordon Parks,” I Am You; Selected Works 1942-1978