Talking about Gordon Parks, can you dig it...?

>> Tuesday, March 03, 2009

I mentioned in the footnote to the last post how I'd stumbled into the fact that Gordon Parks began his career as a professional photographer, and how that may have impacted Shaft's look.

But I hadn't had much of a chance to look at any of Mr. Park's photos, beyond the ones in the Wikipedia entry. This afternoon I had a few minutes to visit one of the sites linked to by Wikipedia in the "External Links" section of the entry on Parks, and I'm in awe. I was merely impressed until I came across this portrait of Ingrid Bergman:

Ingrid Bergman at Stromboli, 1949
Taking a good photograph of Ingrid Bergman isn't a big deal, but that's not merely a good photograph. That's a perfect photograph. Ms. Bergman seems to be aware she's being watched, the hesitant half-turn of her head; meanwhile, these three Sicilian women in the background--they're like Fates or Furies or something, this unmistakable yet literally faceless presence watching, perhaps judging.

I mean I seriously stopped breathing for half-a-second when it came up as the next image in the series. That's a haunting photograph, that's just brilliant.

Here's a Gordon Parks image at an opposite extreme from the glamour of Ingrid Bergman (although the Bergman photo is a remarkably unglamorous one), a poor American family in New York:

The Fontanelle Family, Bessie and Kenneth, Little Richard, Norman Jr. and Ellen at the Poverty Board in New York City, 1967
Another heart-stopping image. It seems a terrible thing to say that an instant of human misery could be a beautiful thing, but this is a beautiful image.

From Mr. Parks' color works, a complete narrative of a time and place (1956; Birmingham, Alabama) in a single frame:

Department Store, Birmingham, Alabama, 1956
The entire retrospective (including these three images and seventeen more) is worth a look, and can be found here. I am stunned and humbled at the way this guy caught bits of space and time and found a way to make the beautiful tragic and tragic beautiful. And it's no wonder, then, that when he dabbled in making movies, the result had a beautiful sense of composition and form.

I've gone thirty-seven years 'til now not being aware of his work, and consider myself impoverished for it. Take a look for yourself. It's well worth it.


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