Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gordon Parks

We went to see the exhibit of Gordon Parks photography at the Grand Rapids Art Museum one last time before it closes at the end of the month. I saw the display the day it opened, but it was crowded and hard to really look at the work. This time, there were only 2 or 3 other people in the gallery and it was easy to linger over a print.

As I was looking at the work, I was struck by how starkly simple the image was, but what complicated stories they tell. It's all photographic black and white prints or what is called "silver gelatin" these days. Most of it would be called "street photography" these days, though after reading a little bit about some of the work, it appears that some of it was planned rather than being captured in a decisive moment.

What I was struck by most is how it all told a story. In these days where most photography is about special effects and super saturated colors, it's a refreshing contrast. Some of the stories were subtle, some of them the kind that reached out and grabbed you, but the were all excellent.

A good portion of the work displayed was social commentaries, with pieces like his poignant photo of Ella Watson mimicking the American Gothic painting. Mixed in were pieces like this photo of Ethel Shariff or his iconic photo of Muhammad Ali which showed his strong portrait background.

There being only 34 photographs in the exhibit, it is more an introduction to a part of his work, not a complete catalog. One thing I would have liked to see was his art photographs. It also would have been nice to have an overview of his other works, like his films and books. Definitely a renaissance man. If you have a chance to see the exhibit, I would recommend it.

More photos of Ella Watson.

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