Gordon Parks at CMA

Last week I got to go over to the Cleveland Museum of Art to check out the new Gordon Parks exhibit. For those of you who don’t know, Parks, a true renaissance man was a photographer, noted composer and an author that lived from 1912-2006. Many people know Gordon Parks as the director of the original, Shaft movie.

Learn more about Gordon Parks

The exhibit at the are museum, Gordon Parks, the New Tide, displays Parks earlier work as a photographer between the years of 1940 to 1950. In all Park’s legendary career spanned over 60 years.

The preview event was way more than I expected. As an event for museum members and their guest, there were musicians playing light jazz, drinks and refreshments for people to enjoy while they switched gears from their work day and prepared to head to the lower galleries to see the exhibit.

Once downstairs I was totally captivated by his photographs. In the first portion of the exhibit I was most drawn to the photos of the famous African Americans I had been taught about in school like Langston Hughes. There was one picture of Hughes that makes you realize how real he was and how the Harlem Renaissance was only a few generations ago.

Later in the exhibit, there were photos that Parks took documenting white workers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I thought about how regarded he must have been to be sent around the country to take photos as a Black man in those days. I wondered if some of these workers called him the N-word or what their bosses had to say to get to them to pose for a picture taken by a Negro in the Jim Crow era.

Parks’ photos were stunning. He had a knack for making his subjects seem real and an ability to capture feeling and emotions of the scenes. There is one series of photos and artifacts on a NY gang member named Red. As you read and look at the photos you begin to realized that a lot of what we’re going through now is not new. There is also a photo a child going through the what looks like the doll test, where he is choosing between the Black and White baby doll. While there were a lot of photos of the struggles of the time, there were also photos he took for lifestyle magazines .

I cannot say enough about this exhibit and quite honestly I feel like I am not doing it justice in this article. Parks was so multi-faceted as evidence of his writings, which are also on display. After going through the exhibit I have a new level of respect and reverence for Gordon Parks, both as a man and as an artist.

Things to know about the exhibit

  1. The exhibit runs through June 9th at the Cleveland Museum of Art

  2. Take your time going through the exhibit. I found myself moving quickly through the early parts of exhibit but then slowed down as I began to fully take in all that Gordon Parks accomplished. I took more time to read the captions, look at the magazine articles on display and really take in the pictures towards the middle and end of the exhibit. I wish I had done that with some of the earlier photos in the exhibit

  3. Go with a friend or two. I was lucky to run into some friends during the reception and it was nice to have them around to talk

  4. The April MIX (April 5th) will be celebrating the exhibit. Learn more about Mix:Funk

Have you visited the exhibit? Let me know what you thought about it or which photos spoke to you in the comments below.