Within just a decade, Gordon Parks (1912–2006) grew from a self-taught portrait photographer and photojournalist in Saint Paul and Chicago to a visionary professional working in New York for Ebony and Glamour, before becoming the first African American photographer at Life magazine in 1949. For the first time this lesser-known yet incredibly formative period of Parks’s long and illustrious career is the subject of an exhibition, Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950. On view in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, from November 4, 2018, through February 18, 2019, the traveling exhibition provides a detailed look at Parks’s early evolution through some 150 photographs, as well as rare magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, and books. It also demonstrates how Parks influenced and was inspired by a network of creative and intellectual figures—including Charles White, Roy Stryker, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Ralph Ellison. A fully illustrated catalog, produced and published by the Gordon Parks Foundation and Steidl in association with the Gallery, features extensive new research and many previously unpublished images.
“While Gordon Parks’s varied career and influential oeuvre have been well noted and cataloged, the foundational first decade of his life as a photographer has never before been explored in such detail as it is in this rich exhibition and volume,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “We are grateful to the Gordon Parks Foundation for its collaboration in sharing a crucial chapter in the life of the pioneering photographer, including his time here in Washington. And it is a pleasure to work once again with Bank of America. They have been a consistent supporter of the Gallery and indeed many arts organizations around the world. This kind of support is important in helping nonprofit museums serve the public.”