The day I announced to my seminar (Photographing America: a Cultural History) that I planned to write my unit on the photographs of Gordon Parks, I learned on the evening news that he had died that very day at 93. I was saddened to learn of his death, but he had left a rich and diverse body of work: full-length films he had written and directed, as well as paintings, musical compositions, poetry, both fiction and nonfiction literature, and above all photographs of subjects ranging from millionaires and fashion models to the disenfranchised. "Renaissance man" appeared more than once in the titles of articles about him during the weeks following his death.
In this diversity of work, I am focusing on about a dozen of Parks' black and white photographs taken during the 1940's through the 1960's, a tumultuous time of war and civil strife in our history, when Parks shot with a .35 millimeter camera that he said he considered to be "more powerful and permanent" than a .45 semi-automatic rifle.
It is for these and many other photographs that he was labeled "a one-man wrecking crew of racial barriers."
These photographs all appear in Parks' retrospective
Half Past Autumn
; hence I will refer to this book as
I have devised what I will call a
way of looking
through the lens
that Gordon Parks looked through, ultimately, to sharpen my students' visual skills, understanding, and communication skills, as they interact with the photographs of Parks from World War II through the Civil Rights Movement. The at-risk high school students I teach at Wilbur Cross Annex are most comfortable with clear expectations and a format usually in the form of a handout to begin their activities. From the safety of this structure with which they seem most familiar students will, almost unwittingly, move beyond it and enhance their skills. Sometimes I refer to this strategy as "backing in," trying new things before one even realizes it.