Search for content, post, videos

Gordon Parks: Centennial by Elizabeth Avedon


“In honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gordon Parks, widely recognized as the most influential African American photographer of the 20th century, Howard Greenberg Gallery in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation presents two exhibitions of his work. Parks, a remarkable Renaissance man who was also a writer, filmmaker, and composer, brought poetic style to street photography and portraiture, while exploring the social and economic impact of racism.”

“A number of color prints from Segregation Story, 1956, a limited edition portfolio with an essay by Maurice Berger, are on exhibition for the first time. They were produced in 2012 from a group of transparencies only recently discovered in a storage box at the Gordon Parks Foundation. The photographs were taken by Parks for a 1956 LIFE Magazine photo-essay, “The Restraints: Open and Hidden.” The exhibitions coincide with Gordon Parks Collected Works, a five-volume book on his photographs published by Steidl. The book is the most extensive publication to document Gordon Parks’s legendary career.”– Gallery Press Release

While the two Gordon Parks exhibitions were being hung in his Gallery, Howard Greenberg sat down with me and shared a glimpse of his first Parks exhibition.

Elizabeth Avedon: This is not the first Gordon Parks exhibition in your gallery. How did you begin working with him?

Howard Greenberg: He had a show in some painting gallery on Madison Avenue, I never found out which gallery. I guess they “screwed him”. He didn’t have a good experience and he was very gun shy after that.

I’d have to say I was trying to convince him for quite a long time, at least a couple of years, any which way I could, to work with me, to do a show with me, let me represent him. I knew a couple of female friends of his who I coerced into talking to him for me. We finally sat down and had a meeting. I told him, “I work with all of your old friends, Jack Delano,” whom he liked, “and William Klein,” who was a good friend of his when they were in Paris, and others.

Then one day he said to me, “Well, I have this new work, what do you think of it?” He showed me what became the book called, “Arias In Silence” (Bulfinch, 1994). In the middle of the night he would make a painting in the apartment, a watercolor. Turner was his favorite artist, and his style was influenced very much by Turner. He’d create some kind of painting and then place an organic object; a shell, a feather, a stone, a piece of driftwood in there, and create a little tableau and then photograph it.

He showed me slides of the work and I was kind of dumbfounded. It was unlike anything I would expect from Gordon. I should have known better since Gordon dabbled in everything in the Universe creative and often did well with it. They were interesting; they were kind of nice because they transcended photography. It was certainly not anything I wanted to show in the Gallery though. I wanted to show his hard-core stuff. Gordon said to me, “Well Howard, if you want to do an exhibition, how about this work?” I said, “I don’t know if it’s my first choice Gordon.” (laughter) After so many years of begging I said, “OK, I’ll do it.”

We decided to work together and then the question was how are we going to reproduce them. This was right at the point when Iris prints were first being made; I dare say it was within the first year of the Iris print. We talked about the various possibilities. I mentioned there’s this new process. I knew Jon Cone, who was at the time ‘The’ Iris printer. We sent a couple of his slides for test printing. They came back large on Rives or Arches paper with texture. They looked like watercolors, works of art. They did not look like photographs. And that sealed the deal.

So I had to invent a way to market those prints. We did editions; we did a show with a gallery in California at the same time to get them spread around. It was kind of a disaster because people who came in the gallery and saw the show, did not know what to make of it. Is this photography? Is this what they call computer photography? Are these real? Are these manipulated? What is this stuff? In anticipation of that I wrote a page: a sheet of paper as a handout, to explain, in some way to justify the prices. We did sell five or six prints, but it was not a successful show critically.

Then maybe two or three years later, after he allowed me to get into his closet where all the vintage prints were stashed, he allowed me to do The Gordon Parks show I wanted to do. Then we really started rolling. That was our start.

EA: I’m so moved by the color images from his LIFE Magazine Segregation Story.

HG: I’m so happy that the Foundation pulled these out. They didn’t totally discover it; some of them have been reproduced before, but not the whole. It is so nice to have new work, new old work, that I hadn’t seen, that other people hadn’t seen, to present. I didn’t want to do more or less the same show three times. Isn’t it interesting to see the world of the 1950’s in color? I mean color photography wasn’t so new by the fifties, you would see it in LIFE Magazine, but you don’t see prints, documentary photographs from that period in color.

EA: Are these the original color prints?

HG: To my knowledge there are no original prints. They went from chromes to press and then back. He did make some photographic prints some years ago. I’m not sure if they were Cibachrome, but just a few, not of all the different images. These are digital prints made by a master printer, David Adamson. He worked on Annie Leibovitz’s “Master Set” and a lot of other top shelf stuff. He’s really good.

Elizabeth Avedon

Gordon Parks: Centennial 
Gordon Parks, Ralph Ellison, and “Invisible Man,” 

September 14 – October 27, 2012
Curated by Glenn Ligon
Howard Greenberg Gallery
The Fuller Building
41 East 57 Street, Suite 1406
New York, NY 10022 – USA
T. 212.334.0010
F. 212.941.7479
[email protected]
Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Create an account or log in to read more and see all pictures.

Install WebApp on iPhone
Install WebApp on Android