February is Black History Month here in the United States. So, for this post I wanted to highlight two of them for you. These men currently have exhibits at the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art here in Washington, D.C. There are other black men and women who have made a mark in photography; however, I have decided to focus on these two for my own personal reasons.
The first and most well known is Gordon Parks. His exhibit is titled “Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early work 1940-1950.” This exhibit features 120 photographs from his early years and covers many topics such as Black Life in Urban America, photos from his experiences working for the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information among other areas of interest.
Gordon Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas in 1912 and was a self-taught artist. He not only photographed black subjects; but he was a pioneer in that as a black photographer he photographed white people in many different settings from coal mines to refineries and he was a featured fashion photographer. His work included being a photographer for Life magazine when it was arguably the most widely read magazine in America. Mr. Parks also played a prominent role in film with movies such as: Rounder, Shaft, The Learning Tree and other projects. You can read more about Mr. Parks at this Wikipedia site, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Parks.
With so many pictures to chose from I decided to post the photo below. Personally, the contrast of the white couple viewing a photograph of a black couple was intriguing! What are your reactions?
The other black photographer is less well known. He is Dawoud Bey and his exhibit at the National Gallery of Art is entitled: “Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project.” This photographic exhibit was particularly poignant for me and all Black Americans of my age along with many Americans of other races. On Sunday, September 16, 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed by four members of the Klu Klux Klan, a white supremacy group that dates to the period of Reconstruction after the War of the Rebellion (Civil War) here in America. 4 young Black girls were murdered, and 22 other people were injured by this racist attack! You can read more about the Birmingham Bombing here https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/10-key-facts-16th-street-baptist-church-bombings-article-1.2361565.
Not widely known is the fact that after the bombing a large crowd of white people in Birmingham began to celebrate the bombing and some took to rioting. Several young white men came upon two young black boys who were delivering newspapers. One of the men took out a gun and shot and killed the younger boy! It happened to be they were brothers. Mr. Bey decided to include a young black boy and an older black man in this exhibit to honor this young victim of a senseless and racist attack.
Mr. Bey decided to portray these young people as they may have looked had they not died in the bombing. He selected several young people about the age of the youths who had died and then found several people about 70 years old to portray how they may have looked as adults. He then posted them in similar positions and photographed his subjects in black & white. I decided to post this photograph for its haunting aspect. It almost appears that the people in the photograph are looking at the viewers and this made me shiver. I was the same age in 1963 as these children when they died, and I remember the bombing as if it just happened!
Please come back to visit www.cestlavie4me.com to see where my photographic journey takes me.