“I chose my camera as a weapon against all the things I dislike about America – poverty, racism, discrimination”
– Gordon Parks
In 1957 Life magazine asked Gordon Parks to show readers that crime looked like in the United States. Parks, the first African American to hold this position of staff photographer at the stellar magazine, took the commission. Over six weeks he and reporter Henry Suydam observed life on the streets of inner-city New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The pictures form the eight-page photo-essay The Atmosphere of Crime (issue September 9, 1957) – “a richly-hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candour.”
Each suggests a story. The framing, angles, chiaroscuro and natural light draw you in, inviting the reader to imagines the stories between the images. Rather than the hackneyed photographs that seek only to show and not tell, Park shows us a world of individuals. The effect is at one compelling and humanising, “a more nuanced view that reflected the social and economic factors tied to criminal behaviour and a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting it.”
So what do we see? In 1957 an intervention from President Dwight D. Eisenhower was needed to allow nine black students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock high school in Arkansas. Parks’s images speak to a criminal justice system filtered by racism, economic disparity and political agenda. As the article tells us: “Life’s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations.”
Via: Art Blart
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