Art

Gordon Parks Part one ( The Social Injustice Photographer) review: are you ready for Part Two opens 1 Sept… Parks’s portrait of Muhammad Ali

“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs” Gordon Parks

Social injustice does that ring any bells? Well the Alison Jacques Gallery’s recent exhibition Gordon Parks: Part One shines a light on the work of the late photographer’s eye for bringing social injustice into the frame. Parks was born on Kansas, Fort Scott in a racially segregated America his photographs are known to document poverty, civil rights and race relations. Making a mark in history as Life magazine’s first African American staff writer and photographer, documenting American culture from the 1940s to 2000s. His achievements encompassing writing (fiction and nonfiction), composing, and filmmaking, having directed several feature films, including Shaft (1971).

Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama, 1956. Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation, New York and Alison Jacques Gallery, London © The Gordon Parks Foundation

In the first of a two-part exhibition of his work, scheduled for March, but due to Covid-19 was delayed and split into two parts, Part One finished on the 8th August, and Part Two opens September 1. This is the first solo show of his work in London for 25 years.

Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama, 1956. Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation, New York and Alison Jacques Gallery, London © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Gordon Parks: Part One focused on two defining stories, Segregation in the South (1956) and Black Muslims (1963), both of which initially appeared in Life magazine. This period formed a critical moment in Parks’ career, coinciding with the burgeoning civil rights movement. The visionary images that constitute both these series offered visibility to often marginalised, anonymous families and misrepresented figures in American society at large. Parks’ interest in taking photographs stemmed from a desire to create meaningful change. As he commented, “I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs

Parks work is often described as groundbreaking and the exhibition gives you a insight into why: if you want an introduction to the works of Parks and to find out more about his other talents then this exhibition is a good start.

Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1963. Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation, New York and Alison Jacques Gallery, London © The Gordon Parks Foundation – also main image

Gordon Parks: Part Two , opens (1 September – 1 October 2020) and will focus on Parks’ portrayal of the American professional boxer, philanthropist and activist Muhammad Ali, nicknamed ‘The Greatest’, presenting a group of portraits taken in London and Miami, between 1966 and 1970. Ali had become an international celebrity after winning a gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome and was photographed by Parks at the height of his success.

Here in London in 2020, amidst a time where Ali and Parks’ stance and message resonates more than ever, we can revisit Parks’ inspirational portrait of Ali:

I speak of a hero with Anger in his heart,

with Fury in his fist, And terror in his sleep.

Who Muhammad Ali is is what he is

And that is, As he would say,

Exactly the way it is.

Gordon Parks, I Speak of a Hero , from Moments Without Proper Names , 1975 This presentation follows on from the major tour

Parks accompanied Ali when he visited London in 1966 for his historic match with UK champion Henry Cooper, who unsuccessfully challenged Ali for the world heavyweight title. The brash young boxing star, who at the time was a controversial figure in the US, was presented by Parks in an unexpected light, as a humble and dedicated athlete. Four years later, in 1970, Parks profiled Ali again as he was training in Miami, preparing to win back his world heavyweight title from Joe Frazier. Crafting a powerful psychological portrait, these photographs helped to shift public opinion and contributed to redefining Ali’s career.

For Gordon Parks Part Two BOOK YOUR VISIT runs first Sept 1 to October 1st………… Covid-19 safety precautions will apply and all visits will be booked in advance. FREE

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