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View Full Version : Discussing a Gordon Parks Photograph



Alex Hawley
09-04-2006, 07:30 PM
We haven't done a Gordon yet, so here goes: http://www.masters-of-photography.com/P/parks/parks_cowboys_full.html

I'm remaining neutral, that is, no comments on my part for now.

Claire Senft
09-04-2006, 07:32 PM
I certainly appreciate the fine work done by Mr Parks.

Michel Hardy-Vallée
09-04-2006, 07:55 PM
It's very.... white!

Seriously, I mean it. Gordon Parks's pictures are valuable because of their pictorial quality, and because they engage with what it is to be black in America. What I find interesting about the present picture is that its subjects are about as white as can be, but that is also something that stands out uncannily. Being white is so often considered "normal" and black a difference from, or an exception to it, that I think this picture turns tables in a great way. To use a faddish word, it "defamiliarizes" the notion of whiteness...

Alex Hawley
09-04-2006, 08:02 PM
What you say was/is very true Michel, and Parks pointed that out very seriously. I don't know what was on his mind when he took this. I had not seen it that way but maybe it does show through like you say.

Michel Hardy-Vallée
09-04-2006, 08:11 PM
Alex, I wish I could also substantiate my claims with a little more than projected intention and contextual reading, but that was really the first thing that sprung to my mind. My reading is a very subjective one, but maybe Park himself was aware of what his audience would think of his work, given that he was black. Glad to know that there is some substance to it, at any rate.

And the fact that a perennial american icon was taken in Ontario, it defamiliarizes the defamiliarization!

Gay Larson
09-04-2006, 08:13 PM
I love gordon Parks work. I particulary love the maid in front of the flag with a mop. this photograph is great and I am drawn into the eyes of the boy on the left looking into the camera.

Alex Hawley
09-04-2006, 08:16 PM
Alex, I wish I could also substantiate my claims with a little more than projected intention and contextual reading, but that was really the first thing that sprung to my mind. My reading is a very subjective one, but maybe Park himself was aware of what his audience would think of his work, given that he was black. Glad to know that there is some substance to it, at any rate.

And the fact that a perennial american icon was taken in Ontario, it defamiliarizes the defamiliarization!

No need for substantiation for me Michel. You just opened my eyes a bit. I hadn't thought of it that way until now. Thanks.

Paul Sorensen
09-04-2006, 08:19 PM
I guess I couldn't help but wondering what they were thinking of the photographer taking their picture. I sure feel like I am an outsider in their world when I look at them in the photo, and none too welcome.

copake_ham
09-04-2006, 08:42 PM
I really like this pic. Even without the title it's time is readily apparent. Just look at the rolled up cuffs on the denims. They scream 'Fifties.

The one on the right is trying to look so cool - with a "James Dean" kind of cool insouicence. The others strike a range of poses (and these are poses - no "street" or "decisive moment" here) that demonstrate various forms of "cool" a'la the time.

One has a straight-into-the-lens engagement and smile while the others strike poses that could almost be from the Dead End Kids.

Of course there are not "real" cowboys - one look at the boots confirms we have the genuine drug store version.

I don't know where Blind River, ONT is located - I'm wondering if this was taken by Parks while on a holiday.

Yes, it's very different from his "movement" pics - but to me, that shows the range of the man's talent.

EDIT: Had to "google" it: http://www.blindriver.com/site/welcome/

Bill Mitchell
09-04-2006, 10:08 PM
Some pictures stand alone (depending, of course, on the viewer's background), others require captions or need the context of related images to fully establish themselves in the viewer's mind as more than just a random snapshot. I think this is one of those.
Thanks, Alex.

Dave Wooten
09-04-2006, 10:44 PM
I think he was working for Life magazine at this time.

John Bragg
09-14-2006, 04:34 AM
Certainly has a feel of the time about it. Screams 50s at you..... Cowboys in flat caps though ? Now there,s a twist !

Regards, John.

Jim Chinn
09-14-2006, 11:30 AM
I guess I couldn't help but wondering what they were thinking of the photographer taking their picture. I sure feel like I am an outsider in their world when I look at them in the photo, and none too welcome.


It's hard to say. knowing that Parks is African-American makes me think I see a little bit of sneering contempt in a couple of the youths expressions. But they may have shown a little contempt for any outsider or "city slciker" in their neck of the woods.

What a talented person. I am always amazed when I think of what a life Parks had and all he accomplished, especially early in his career when he woulde have faced tremendous odds against success due to racisim.

catem
09-14-2006, 12:11 PM
It's a great photo, and yes - those guys do look like they could be a bit lary - giving us a sense of being in Parks' shoes....Or as you say, any city slicker or maybe anyone in town not in their tribe. I can't help feeling the racial undertones, though. Could just aswell have been Teddy-boys on a street corner in Britain at the same time, it really gets the mood of the youth pack.. Scary for outsiders, but especially those who aren't white...
Cate