Gordon Parks’ eye for the everyday conditions of Black life catapulted him to international prominence. A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art explores how the acclaimed photographer developed this sensibility early in his career.


Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950” opened to the public at the Washington D.C museum yesterday (November 4). The exhibit uses photographs from a decade in Parks’ early career to chronicle the evolution in his skills, career and areas of interest. The hundreds of photographs capture highlights from several formative periods, including his many visits to rural Black communities for the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information; trips to rural Canada, where he took photos of oil workers for Standard Oil (New Jersey)’s public relations efforts; friendships with other Black artistic pioneers like Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison; and the initial years of his tenure as Life magazine’s first Black staff photographer. 

Check out several photos from the new exhibition, which is on display until February 18, 2019.

Photo: Gordon Parks Gordon Parks. Black-and-white image of Black man holding camera in front of plain background "Self-Portrait," 1941. Private Collection. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Photo: Gordon Parks Black-and-white image of Black men and dog in entrance of and outside of pool hall with white wall "Pool Hall, Fort Scott, Kansas." 1950. Collection of Paul Sack. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Photo: Gordon Parks Black-and-white image of Black girl on bed in front of window "Washington, D.C. A young girl who lives near the Capitol." June 1942. The Gordon Parks Foundation. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Photo: Gordon Parks Black-and-white image of Latinx man holding Latinx girl in front of crowd and wall "Unitiled, Puerto Rico (Inauguration of Luis Muñoz-Marín)." January 1949. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with funds contributed in memory of Magda Krauss, 2001. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Photo: Gordon Parks Marva Trotter Louis. Black-and-white image of Black woman in patterned dress and hat in front of plain wall. "Marva Trotter Louis, Chicago, Illinois." 1941. The Gordon Parks Foundation. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Gordon Parks Sepia image of elderly Black woman seated with three grandchildren and near another Black woman in house. "Washington, D.C. Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman, with three grandchildren and her adopted daughter." July 1942. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Photo: Gordon Parks Langston Hughes. Sepia image of Black man wearing plaid shirt with hand in wooden frame in front of plain background "Langston Hughes, Chicago." December 1941. The Gordon Parks Foundation. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation.