In regards to the current exhibition of Gordon Parks in Berlin, I wanted to share some thoughts on his life and work which may also inspire yourself. Gordon Parks was not also an outstanding photographer but also a film director, writer, and musician. He truly was a renaissance human focused on the artistic field, expressing himself through many different ways.
Gordon Parks and his Form of Expression
Gordon Parks was the youngest of 16 children born in a family fighting poverty and the racism of the early 20th century in the USA. This childhood naturally forms a character where you are facing a lot of problems that you have to solve and can bring attention to with the help of your work. Luckily most of us don’t have to deal with these extreme situations and living conditions.
Nevertheless, even if you were born in a typical middle-class family and had a secure childhood there were different angst present, whether be it about social descending or other related topics. Embracing some of these inner fears in your photography can lead to pictures that tell a story within. To show your personality through your work you need to open yourself up and allow it.
Working in Photography Series
The reason why Gordon Parks’ documentary work is so powerful is that he not only created exceptional snapshots but told a whole story with multiple pictures. I love Street Photography but I dislike the disconnectedness of the pictures and the body of work of most Photographers. Telling a story through a single picture is difficult enough. A single picture hasn’t a timeline – no clear beginning nor ending and the story can be very ambiguous. With the help of sorting multiple pictures in a logical order, you are able to make up a story with the typical elements of the beginning and ending, building up tension and guiding the viewer through your pictures.
Investing time in a documentary series, instead of taking snapshots on the street, allows for some deeper inner views. The insight you gain from a whole series and working with insiders of a group and cooperating with other experts is much more profound, in contrast to the superficial craft that Street Photography is. In a week’s time inside the Harlem Gang, Gordon Parks created a series that even more than 60 years later offers a unique view and a story that is worth reading.
Expanding beyond Street Photography
What fascinates me about Gordon Parks photography’s body of work are not only his documentary series but also his fashion work. In his work for the Life Magazine, he had a very consistent style using high contrast and black and white film. His work looks very “rough” but also very close and sort of real.
In his fashion work, he photographed for the first time in color and widened his style. Instead of the rough documentary work, he puts the models in very elegant poses combines them with geometric figures and embraces colorful scenes.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone can improve your photographic eye and spark some new inspirations for your Street Photography. If you spend some time focusing on architecture, surely you will embrace this new view, even in your documentary work.
Inspire yourself through other arts
Besides Photography Gordon Parks was also a virtuoso in the artistic fields of film directing, writing and composing. With his movie “Shaft” he created the genre “Blaxploitation” which was a milestone and spawned a lot of offsprings.
His lifetime achievements are truly unique. Recreating his work will be near impossible in terms of quality, but that shouldn’t stop you from following different branches of art. If you are interested in music, learning an instrument might also inspire your photographic vision. Always be open-minded, let yourself inspire from different sources and don’t get lost too deep in one specific photographic direction.
If you like to see more of Gordon Park’s work you are able to see archives via The Gordon Parks Foundation.