Tag Archives: Gordon Parks

GORDON PARKS — THE ATMOSPHERE OF CRIME 1957

What do we mean by “crime” in America? The question should be easy to answer—we have detailed codes and statutes that forbid certain conduct defined as a criminal offense. We have an elaborate system of policing, prosecution, punishment, and incarceration that involves millions of people. But there’s a great deal more to how we think and talk about crime, and certainly to how we see and enforce criminal laws.

From the beginning, the prosecution and punishment of crime in this country have been profoundly shaped by race, poverty, power, and status. For centuries politicians have stoked fear of crime and exploited perceived crime waves, while our public discourse about crime has been compromised by persistent inattention to our history of racial violence. There is a different narrative about “crime in America” that we have for the most part ignored…

In 1957, Life magazine editors engaged staff photographer Gordon Parks and writer Robert Wallace to explore crime in the United States. The published article, by Wallace and staff editors, was a myopic rendering of the dominant narrative about crime and criminality, emblematic of a discourse shaped by politicians, law enforcement officials, and criminologists not interested in reckoning with pervasive racially motivated criminality.

Parks’ photographs told a different story. As an African American survivor of racial injustice, he was keenly aware of race and class in America, and this palpably informed his photography and his art. He consistently humanized people who were meant to be objects of scorn and derision. It’s this dissonance with a conventional crime narrative that makes his “crime” photos for Life so compelling today. — Bryan Stevenson*

The complete 1957 crime series by Parks—only a few images of which were published in Life—is available now in an exhibition catalog from the suspended Museum of Modern Art exhibition. See links below for details.

GORDON PARKS—THE ATMOSPHERE OF CRIME 1957

*Bryan Stevenson, “The Lens of Gordon Parks: A Different Picture of Crime in America,” in Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime 1957, ed. Sarah Meister (Göttingen: Steidl; Pleasantville, NY: Gordon Parks Foundation; New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2020).

Gordon Parks, The Atmosphere of Crime 1957. Images courtesy and © the Gordon Parks Foundation, the Museum of Modern Art, and Steidl.

TONI MORRISON — THE PIECES I AM

Navigating a white male world wasn’t threatening. It wasn’t even interesting. I knew more than them. — Toni Morrison

TONI MORRISON—THE PIECES I AM—the new documentary by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, now in theaters—is a joyous, exhilarating look at the life and work of a great American author, teacher, and editor who has always been happy to be labeled a “black writer,” a “woman writer.”

“I didn’t want to speak for black people. I wanted to speak to, and among…”

And it is shocking, in Greenfield-Sanders documentary, to come across such benighted critical voices as, say, Sara Blackburn’s in 1973, in America’s supposedly liberal newspaper of record:

“Toni Morrison is far too talented to remain only a marvelous recorder of the black side of provincial American life.”*

Removing the white male gaze as the dominant voice is a key element of Morrison’s practice, and she doesn’t hesitate calling out black writers who seemed to write to white audiences. Citing Ralph Ellison, she asks, “The Invisible Man? Invisible to whom?”

As a senior editor at Random House throughout the 1970s, Morrison discovered and championed books by Gayl Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, and Bettie Wysor (author of The Lesbian Myth). She also persuaded Angela Davis—then in her late twenties—to write her autobiography.

“Eventually I learned that the book she wanted to publish was the book I wanted to write… She helped me access my imagination in ways I continue to be grateful for today.” — Angela Davis

Song of Solomon (1977) was Morrison’s first best seller, and five years later she left her editor’s post to devote her time to writing and teaching. She’s professor emeritus at Princeton University, and often told her students, “I know you’ve been told, ‘write what you know.’ I don’t want you to do that. You don’t know anything.”

TONI MORRISON—THE PIECES I AM features interviews with Morrison’s friends and colleagues—Walter Mosley, Farah Griffin, Fran Lebowitz, Paula Giddings, Hilton Als, Sonia Sanchez, editor Robert Gottlieb, and Davis—as well as a rich selection of contemporary artwork by, among others, Mickalene Thomas, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks, David Hammons, and Rashid Johnson.

TONI MORRISON—THE PIECES I AM

Tuesday, October 22, at 7:30 pm.

The Landmark

10850 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles.

Wednesday, September 18, at 7:30 pm.

Billy Wilder Theater, Hammer Museum

10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.

Music Hall

9036 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills.

Downtown Independent

251 South Main Street, Los Angeles.

Arclight Hollywood

6360 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles.

*Sara Blackburn, review of Sula, by Toni Morrison, New York Times, December 30, 1973.

From top: Toni Morrison, photograph from Toni Morrrison—The Pieces I Am; Morrison, photograph courtesy and © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders; Morrison with her sons Ford Morrison (left) and Slade Morrison in 1978, photograph by Jack Mitchell, Getty Images; poster courtesy Magnolia Pictures; Morrison and Greenfield-Sanders, photograph courtesy and © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Images courtesy and © the author, the photographers, and Magnolia Pictures.

GORDON PARKS’ EARLY WORK

The exhibition GORDON PARKS—THE NEW TIDE, EARLY WORK 1940–1950G looks at his mid-century work from the time when “images began to proliferate in picture magazines and on television,” providing an “engaging study of the competing purposes and meanings” of his commissions—journalistic, governmental, industrial, and fashion.*

GORDON PARKS—THE NEW TIDE, EARLY WORK 1940–1950*

Through June 9.

Cleveland Museum of Art

11150 East Boulevard, Cleveland.

Gordon Parks, gelatin silver prints, from top: Self-Portrait, 1941; Washington, D.C. Government charwoman, [Ella Watson],1942; Tenement Dwellers, Chicago, 1950; Paris Fashions, 1949; Self-Portrait. Images courtesy and © the Gordon Parks Foundation.

JEROME ROBBINS AND NEW YORK

“My beautiful city is set on rock between two flowing paths of water that run to the sea. My city is tall and jagged—with gold-slated towers… My city chokes on its breath, and sparkles with its false lights—and sleeps restlessly at night. My city is a lone man walking at night down an empty street watching his shadow grow longer as he passes the last lamp post, seeing no comfort in the blank, dark windows, and hearing his footsteps echo against the building and fade away.” — Jerome Robbins

Admired, disparaged, beloved, feared, Jerome Robbins (1918–1998) was one of the great choreographers of the twentieth century. Arthur Laurents told Robbins he was “a shit” for naming names as a “friendly witness” for HUAC. (Robbins feared being exposed as bisexual.) Yet Laurents continued to collaborate with him, most notably on West Side Story. (Stephen Sondheim, the show’s lyricist, said that Robbins was one of the only geniuses he’d ever worked with.)

Through his work with the American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, and on Broadway—On the Town, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof, to name just three shows among dozens—Robbins was indelibly associated with his home base and muse: Manhattan.

A new exhibition curated by Julia Foulkes marks Robbins’ centenary and his lifelong celebration of the city, and includes dance films and videos, diaries, paintings, story scenarios, press clippings, and extensive photographic documentation.

VOICE OF MY CITY—JEROME ROBBINS AND NEW YORK

Through March 30.

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

40 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York City.

From top: Sharks and Jets dance in West Side Story, on tour in Europe in the early 2000s; the original Fancy Free cast—Muriel Bentley, Janet Reed, Harold Lang, John Kriza, and Jerome Robbins—in Times Square in 1958, with photographer Gordon Parks leaning over his tripod, courtesy the Jerome Robbins Dance Division/The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; Mikhail Baryshnikov in the New York City Ballet production of The Four Seasons (1979), choreographed by Robbins; Antoinette Sibley rehearses Afternoon of a Faun with the choreographer, photograph by Michael Childers, courtesy Dance Magazine; Damian Woetzel and Tiler Peck dance Robbins at Kennedy Center, 2017; Carmen de Lavallade, Robbins, and Yves Saint Laurent—photograph by Whiteside—and Robbins in 1944, both courtesy Dance Magazine.

CHARLES WHITE AND HIS CIRCLE

This is the closing weekend for TRUTH & BEAUTY—CHARLES WHITE AND HIS CIRCLE, an exhibition of works by the great draftsman and his friends and colleagues, reflecting White’s working life in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles—the host cities of his concurrent retrospective.

Among White’s circle and included in the show are Romare Bearden, Betye SaarRoy DeCarava, Philip Evergood, Robert Gwathmey, David Hammons, Jacob Lawrence, Gordon Parks, Norman Lewis, Ben ShahnJohn Biggers, Eldzier Cortor, Kerry James Marshall, and Hale Woodruff.

TRUTH & BEAUTY—CHARLES WHITE AND HIS CIRCLE

Through Saturday, November 10.

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 100 Eleventh Avenue (at 19th Street), New York City.

 

CHARLES WHITE—A RETROSPECTIVE

Through January 13.

Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York City.

The retrospective will be on view in Los Angeles in early 2019, along with two coincident exhibitions: LIFE MODEL—CHARLES WHITE AND HIS STUDENTS at LACMA’s satellite gallery at Charles White Elementary School—formerly Otis Art Institute, where the artist taught for many years—and a show at CAAM.

CHARLES WHITE—A RETROSPECTIVE

February 17 through June 9.

LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.

From top:

Charles WhiteJ’Accuse! No.5, 1966, Wolff crayon and charcoal on paper.

Betye SaarThe Mystic Window #1, 1965, assemblage with etchings, graphite, ink, and watercolor on paper in antique window frame.

Romare BeardenFlights and Fantasy, 1970, mixed media collage of various papers and synthetic polymer paint on Masonite.

Charles WhiteUntitled, 1945, tempera and graphite on illustration board.

Charles WhiteJuba #2, 1965, Wolff crayon and oil wash on illustration board.

Image credit: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery.