Howard University acquires 252 Gordon Parks photographs spanning five decades

Gordon Parks, Margaret Burroughs, Untitled, ca. 1946.
©Gordon Parks/The Gordon Parks Foundation

Howard University and the Gordon Parks Foundation announced a historic acquisition of 252 photographs depicting the arc of Gordon Parks’ career spanning five decades. The breadth of the collection – which spans Parks’ early photographs from the 1940s through the 1990s – makes it one of the most comprehensive resources for the study of Parks’ life and work anywhere in the world. The Gordon Parks Legacy Collection, a combined donation and purchase, will be housed at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Organized thematically by subject into 15 study sets, the photographs serve as a rich repository for the development of multidisciplinary exhibitions and programs that advance research on Parks’ contributions as an artist and humanitarian.

Gordon Parks, Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun, New York, NY, 1959.
©Gordon Parks/The Gordon Parks Foundation

The acquisition of Howard University is part of the Gordon Parks Foundation’s commitment to support initiatives that provide access to and deepen understanding of Parks’ work and vision for artists, scholars, students and the public. Building on this partnership, the Foundation and Howard University are exploring future projects that leverage the collection to catalyze new research and joint programming.

“This historic collection of photographs by one of the great chroniclers of black American life provides artists, journalists and scholars at Howard University with a new resource to study and embrace the lasting impact of Gordon Parks,” said Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Executive Director of the Gordon Parks Foundation. “As a photographer working in segregated Washington, D.C., in 1942, Parks made his first connection with Howard, who by then embodied many of the values ​​that his work came to represent. For him, it was a life-changing experience. learning, which makes Howard a suitable place to bring his art to life.”

Gordon Parks, “Marian Anderson at the dedication of a mural installed at the Department of the Interior, commemorating the outdoor concert she performed at the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow her to sing at Constitution Hall.” Washington, D.C., 1943.
©Gordon Parks/The Gordon Parks Foundation

“Howard University is proud to be the recipient of such an important collection of works by African-American artist and photojournalist Gordon Parks,” said Dr. Wayne AI Frederick, President of Howard University. “Mr. Parks was a pioneer whose documentation of the lived experiences of African Americans, particularly during the Civil Rights period, inspired empathy, encouraged cultural and political criticism, and sparked activism among those who saw his Having a collection of his timeless photographs at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center will allow Howard University faculty, students, and visiting scholars to build on his work and build on his legacy of truth and representation. through the arts.”

Gordon Parks, Duke Ellington, New York, 1960.
©Gordon Parks/The Gordon Parks Foundation

“I am extremely excited about this historic acquisition by Howard University and this rich addition to the Moorland-Spingarn collection,” said Benjamin Talton, Ph.D., Director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University.The collection reinforces Howard’s place as the preeminent institution preserving the legacy of the global Black experience. In addition to acquiring the largest Gordon Parks collection in the nation, Howard University gains a partner in the Gordon Parks Foundation. I am grateful that our students and faculty have direct access to Parks’ work and to the resources of the Gordon Parks Foundation for research and teaching. As a photographer and filmmaker, Parks left us with a unique account of the rich diversity of African-American life in the United States, and the beauty and pain of American history more broadly, during the latter half. of the 20th century.”

Gordon Parks, Untitled, March on Washington, DC, 1963.
©Gordon Parks/The Gordon Parks Foundation

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Howard University and the Gordon Parks Foundation. Gordon Parks’ work helped define American art in the 20th century and there’s no better place to help safeguard his legacy. than the mecca of black education,” added Jelani Cobbboard member of the Gordon Parks Foundation.

Among the qualities that set this acquisition apart is the inclusion of photographs created by Parks early in his career in the 1940s. His portraits of members of the black communities of Minneapolis and Chicago, some of which circulated in black media of the time, are crucial to understanding Parks’ emergence as a photographer working for the popular press. These communities and the Southside Community Arts Center, where Parks operated his studio and exhibited work, allowed for the creative exchange of ideas and inspiration from the talent he attracted, and this confluence would forge some of Parks’ most important relationships. . Other highlights of the collection include early portraits of historical figures before they achieved national and international recognition, including Robert Todd Duncan, who is best known for his role as Porgy in the first production of Porgy and Bess and as one of the first African Americans to sing with a major opera company; Margaret Taylor-Boroughs, visual artist, writer, poet, educator and arts organizer who co-founded what is now the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago; renowned conductor Charles Dean Dixon, the first African-American guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic; and stage actress Hilda Simms, who played the title role in the all-black production of Anna Lucasta on Broadway.

The collection traces Parks’ progression from those early portraits of emerging talent to becoming one of the leading photographers of black celebrities over the following decades. Parks’ mid-career works are represented Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun, New York, New York1959; Duke Ellington in concert, New York1960; Louis Armstrong, Los Angeles, California, 1969; among other photographs of notable personalities of the time.

Following this arc, the collections also include photographs taken later in Parks’ career of subjects representing new generations of changemakers at the height of their emergence on the cultural scene, including portraits of the iconic model. Iman from the 1970s and images taken in New York. jazz musician Miles Davis in 1981 and filmmaker Spike Lee in 1990.

Using his camera as his “choice of arms”, Parks chronicled the struggles and triumphs of black America throughout his career as a means to advance social justice. This lifelong commitment is reflected in several study sets featured in the acquisition, including selected works from Parks’ historic 1956 color photographic essay for Life magazine, later known as history of segregation, who had exposed the daily realities of black Americans living under Jim Crow law in the rural south. Also featured are Parks’ photographs of the March on Washington and leaders of the civil rights movement, including Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael.


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