Evidence of editing on a contact sheet. Gordon Parks, American, 1912-2006, Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1948 Gelatin silver print Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Today’s post comes from Isa Pengskul, class of 2019 and Art Center Student Docent.

Daily we see thousands of images, and with the aid of technology, most of these photos have been manipulated to enhance certain qualities. We have also become the editors of our own stories through our posts on social media. The stories that we share and see can be shaped and perhaps distorted by bias and intent in media production. The exhibition Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument currently showing at the Art Center aims to tackle this issue through analyzing Gordon Parks’ photographic essay “Harlem Gang Leader.”

Gordon Parks, American, 1912-2006 Self-Portrait, ca. 1948 Gelatin silver print. Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation.

On Friday, October 2, New Orleans Museum of Art curator, Russell Lord, joined us to open the new exhibition. He explained that Gordon Parks was the first African American photographer on staff at Life magazine in 1948. The work being shown in this exhibition is part of Parks’ first photo-essay. In his lecture, Lord illustrated the significance of the manner in which Life chose to portray Parks’ photographs. He discussed issues that arise in collaboration, manipulation, and editing, pointing out how the intent of the magazine may have distorted Parks’ intended story. The exhibition invites the viewer to observe this directly. It juxtaposes the work-in-progress with the final product to reveal the process of editing. Interestingly it features not only final images printed in the magazine, but also annotated contact sheets that show discarded images, crop marks, suggestions for heightened contrast and other visual alterations to Parks’ original images. These provoke larger questions about the editorial process. We may start to wonder how the media has attempted to manipulate the emotions of the audiences. Or to think, “to what extent does excluding images affect the message of the media?” It challenges the trust that consumers place in the media, who may feel that a comprehensive story must always be reported. Essentially it demands the audience to reflect on the power of manipulation and contextualization of photos in everyday media.

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This image was chosen by Life as the first image in the layout in order to portray Parks’ subject, Red Jackson, as a troubled gangster. Gordon Parks, American, 1912-2006 Red Jackson, Harlem, New York, 1948 Gelatin silver print. Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation.

This unique exhibition provides the Art Center with an opportunity to observe the process of arriving at a final product. Though its content dates back to the 1940s, its messages are still relevant today. It challenges various aspects of American life and culture, from media, to the representation of African Americans. Various discussions related to the material will be taking place at Vassar, including a faculty discussion panel and screenings of Gordon Parks’ movies Diary of a Harlem Family (1968) and The Learning Tree (1969).* The exhibition Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument will continue to be on view through December 13, 2015.

*Please visit http://fllac.vassar.edu/events for more details of the events, or take a look at http://pages.vassar.edu/gordonparksexhibition to find out more about the work and life of Gordon Parks

 

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