Portraits

Gordon Parks


Gordon Parks was one of the seminal figures of 20th century photography. A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, he documented many of the most important aspects of American culture from the early 1940s up until his death in 2006, with a focus on race relations, poverty, civil rights, and urban life. Parks overcame extraordinary barriers in the course of his career: he was the first African American photographer to join the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and to become part of Life magazine’s staff of photographers; the first journalist to publish a photo essay about a Harlem gang; and the first African American to write, direct, and score a Hollywood film. Parks was radically committed to the struggle against discrimination, and used (as he himself said) his cameras as arms against the prejudice and injustice that dishonoured and disfigured his country. Themes of class, race, loneliness, and alienation run through his striking visual narratives.

This exhibition is the first to focus solely on portraits made by Parks, and includes 42 images spanning three decades of his career, from 1940 to 1970. From the impoverished families of Harlem to the leaders of the Black Muslim community to celebrities such as Eartha Kitt, Parks was interested in documenting the working class, marginalized people, or those who went against the grain of the mainstream. His portraits in particular are infused with his desire to humanize those who were rejected or ignored by society, his subjects revealing a depth of inner strength and self-respect.

Organized with The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Presented in partnership with Black Artists’ Networks in Dialogue.

Supported by Scotiabank.