Gordon Parks: I Use My Camera as a Weapon

18.03 – 21.05.2017 Gordon Parks: I Use My Camera as a Weapon

Zachęta – National Gallery of Art

curator: Joanna Kinowska

The title of the exhibition I Use My Camera as a Weapon is a quotation from Parks’ first and most important published writing, A Choice of Weapons. That title is the key to his life philosophy and it has to do with choosing your tools precisely in order to reach your goals.  It also refers to a form of activism and the struggle for social equality.

Looking at his photographs several decades after they were first published, one wonders about the kind of photojournalist he was. How did he select his subjects? What was his approach when photographing people and how did he treat his subjects? This exhibition presents a selection of 80 photographs by Parks. Some of them are iconic, some are lesser known. As a photographer, he was first of all a humanist, a concerned human being. “I had chosen my camera as a tool of social consciousness. Common sense told me I had to have sufficient understanding of what was right or wrong, otherwise that camera could eventually become my own enemy.”

Gordon Parks may be considered a true incarnation of the American myth of a self-made man. Born as the fifteenth child of Mr. and Mrs. Parks, he had to fight for survival, for jobs, for means to support his family, and finally he fought for African American civil rights. He lived 93 years and witnessed change, both on a macro and micro scale. Pathos is unavoidable when speaking about the first black photographer to be hired by such magazines as Life or Vogue. He was a writer, a poet, a composer and a Hollywood director. He published several memoirs, in which he stressed the importance of becoming a “somebody”: a rightful citizen of the United States, a respected man, but also respectful of other people.

Parks’ engagement in the struggle for social equality was appreciated by both sides. He would engage with his subjects on a long-term basis, witnessing their everyday lives. He aimed for authenticity. His photographs were later presented in the most important illustrated magazine in the world. However, it was a body of work about New York City's crime that got him the attention of Life's editors. Parks was allowed to enter the lives of black people with ease. He was close and understood the community and he was competent in showing their greatest struggles to white people. This is also what Roy Stryker, the head of documentary photography in the Farm Security Administration (FSA) project, fought for. He was the man who taught Parks lessons on visual storytelling and ultimately formed him as a photographer. He was the one who suggested to Parks to approach Ella Watson, a janitor at the FSA building. The photograph he took of her resembles the famous painting by Grant Wood entitled American Gothic, and it eventually became one of the most important photographs of the 20th century.

This exhibition follows the organizational principle Parks introduced in his own archives. The chronological order is at times interrupted by thematic coherency. Chronology and narrative, when presented side by side, reveal the photographer’s unique ability to feel comfortable in extreme social circumstances. That same kind of sensibility was at work when he was portraying the beggar in Estoril, Portugal, and the countess in Paris. He had his preferred way of working, his storytelling devices, his favorite ways of seeing and framing the world. He has learned the lessons of modernism, which are particularly noticeable in his early works, but his legacy is not one of style. It’s the focus on people that's at the core of his work. “At times, especially in the adolescence of my career, I allowed my camera to pass judgment upon people without first taking time to understand them. I took refuge in the erroneous adage that ‘a photograph never lies.’ Since then, I have learned that what a man is does not always show on the face he wears. Usually there’s a deeper truth submerged inside, often imprisoned by his most constant enemy — himself.”

Looking at Gordon Parks’ photographs today, the faith in the image and its meaning is restored. These photographs approximate the history of the 20th century, a history of transformations that took place not only in the United States. However, the right context is crucial for understanding them. Most importantly, they require engagement and curiosity on the part of the viewer. Throughout his life, Parks was fighting against prejudice and proved even the smallest change is worth the effort. We do have a choice. All we need to do is to make it.


Gordon Parks, American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Exhibitions
3/3

Works on exhibition

  • Zdjęcie pracy Gordon Parks, Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1963 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
    Gordon Parks, Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1963 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
  • Zdjęcie pracy Gordon Parks, Untitled, Phoenix, California, 1963 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon ParksFoundation
    Gordon Parks, Untitled, Phoenix, California, 1963 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon ParksFoundation
  • Zdjęcie pracy Gordon Parks, Untitled, Watts, California, 1967 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
    Gordon Parks, Untitled, Watts, California, 1967 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
  • Zdjęcie pracy  Gordon Parks, Ingrid Bergman at Stromboli, Italy, 1949 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
    Gordon Parks, Ingrid Bergman at Stromboli, Italy, 1949 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
  • Zdjęcie pracy Gordon Parks, Trainer Works on Muhammad Ali’s Shoulder, Miami, Florida, 1966 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
    Gordon Parks, Trainer Works on Muhammad Ali’s Shoulder, Miami, Florida, 1966 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
  • Zdjęcie pracy Gordon Parks, American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
    Gordon Parks, American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
  • Zdjęcie pracy Gordon Parks, Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama, 1956 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
    Gordon Parks, Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama, 1956 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
  • Zdjęcie pracy  Gordon Parks, Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-shopping, Mobile, Alabama, 1956 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
    Gordon Parks, Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-shopping, Mobile, Alabama, 1956 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
  • Zdjęcie pracy Gordon Parks, Evening Wraps at Dawn, New York, New York, 1956 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
    Gordon Parks, Evening Wraps at Dawn, New York, New York, 1956 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
  • Zdjęcie pracy Gordon Parks, Bessie and Little Richard the Morning After She Scalded Her Husband, Harlem, New York, 1967 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
    Gordon Parks, Bessie and Little Richard the Morning After She Scalded Her Husband, Harlem, New York, 1967 © Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Related events
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Curatorial walk-through accompanying the exhibition "Gordon Parks: I Use My Camera as a Weapon"
    19.03 (Sun) 12:15
    Curatorial walk-through accompanying the exhibition "Gordon Parks: I Use My Camera as a Weapon"
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Gordon Parks’ cinematographic blackness. Lecture on the African-American cinema in the early 1970's
    23.03 (Thu) 18:00
    Gordon Parks’ cinematographic blackness. Lecture on the African-American cinema in the early 1970's
    Lecture by Ewa Drygalska
    Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Sunday guided tour (in Polish)
    02.04 (Sun) 12:15
    Sunday guided tour (in Polish)
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Ethics vs. Photo reportage. Family workshop (in Polish)
    02.04 (Sun) 12:30
    Ethics vs. Photo reportage. Family workshop (in Polish)
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Changing the world. Family workshops (in Polish)
    09.04 (Sun) 12:30
    Changing the world. Family workshops (in Polish)
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Shaft & Shatft’s Big Score!
    18.04 (Tue) 18:00
    Shaft & Shatft’s Big Score!
    Film screening
    Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Zachęta Signs!
    20.04 (Thu) 17:00
    Zachęta Signs!
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Leadbelly
    20.04 (Thu) 18:00
    Leadbelly
    Film screening
    Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Looking / Seeing. Contemporary art and the seniors
    21.04 (Fri) 12:15
    Looking / Seeing. Contemporary art and the seniors
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Photojournalism. Family workshops accompanying the exhibition of Gordon Parks (in Polish)
    23.04 (Sun) 12:30
    Photojournalism. Family workshops accompanying the exhibition of Gordon Parks (in Polish)
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Screening of Gordon Parks' documentaries:
    25.04 (Tue) 18:00
    Screening of Gordon Parks' documentaries:
    Flavio (1964); Diary of a Harlem Family (1968); The World of Piri Thomas (1968)
    Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)
  • Grafika wydarzenia: A subordinative voice.  The American Dream and the American Nightmare through the lens of Gordon Parks
    27.04 (Thu) 18:00
    A subordinative voice. The American Dream and the American Nightmare through the lens of Gordon Parks
    Lecture by Anton Górny
    Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Friday at Five. Thematic guided tour (in Polish)
    28.04 (Fri) 17:00
    Friday at Five. Thematic guided tour (in Polish)
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Friday at Five. Thematic guided tour (in Polish)
    05.05 (Fri) 17:00
    Friday at Five. Thematic guided tour (in Polish)
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Fashion. Family workshops (in Polish)
    07.05 (Sun) 12:30
    Fashion. Family workshops (in Polish)
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks
    09.05 (Tue) 18:00
    Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks
    Film screening
    Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Accessible Art. Meetings with contemporary art for the blind
    10.05 (Wed) 17:00
    Accessible Art. Meetings with contemporary art for the blind
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: From analog to digital.
    10.05 (Wed) 17:00
    From analog to digital.
    Lecture by Tomasz Ferenc (in Polish)
    Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Photographer’s Code of Ethics
    11.05 (Thu) 18:00
    Photographer’s Code of Ethics
    Discussion with Joanna Kinowska, Wojciech Grzędziński and Adam Lach
    Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Friday at Five. Thematic guided tour (in Polish)
    12.05 (Fri) 17:00
    Friday at Five. Thematic guided tour (in Polish)
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Exhibition manual/ Workshops for adults (in Polish)
    13.05 (Sat) 16:00
    Exhibition manual/ Workshops for adults (in Polish)
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: The Learning Tree
    16.05 (Tue) 18:00
    The Learning Tree
    Film screening
    Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)Zachęta / multimedia room (entrance from Burschego street)
  • Grafika wydarzenia:
    17.05 (Wed) 18:00
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia: Friday at Five. Thematic guided tour (in Polish)
    19.05 (Fri) 17:00
    Friday at Five. Thematic guided tour (in Polish)
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
  • Grafika wydarzenia:
    21.05 (Sun) 17:30
    Zachęta – National Gallery of ArtZachęta
Related media
  • mediateka / audio
  • mediateka / audio
  • mediateka / audio
  • mediateka / audio
  • Grafika obiektu:
    mediateka / audio
  • Grafika obiektu: Zachęta. February, March, April 2017
    mediateka / folders / Texts
    Zachęta. February, March, April 2017
    Magazine
  • Grafika obiektu: Zachęta. May, June 2017
    mediateka / folders / Texts
    Zachęta. May, June 2017
    Magazine
  • Grafika obiektu: Gordon Parks: I Use My Camera as a Weapon
    mediateka / posters
    Gordon Parks: I Use My Camera as a Weapon
E-BOOKSHOP
  • Katalogi
    5,00 złZachęta - July, August, September, October 2017

Information

Gordon Parks: I Use My Camera as a Weapon
18.03 – 21.05.2017

Zachęta – National Gallery of Art
pl. Małachowskiego 3, 00-916 Warsaw
See on the map

Godziny otwarcia:
Tuesday – Sunday 12–8 p.m.
Thursday – free entry
ticket office is open until 7.30 p.m.  

The United States Embassy in Poland is the sponsor of the exhibition "Gordon Parks: I Use My Camera as a Weapon":
usa

Exhibition organized with the support from:

Cooperation: