MIDTOWN — Gordon Parks was a self-taught photographer who, through portraits and street photography, captured the lives of African-Americans in the mid-20th century.
He was the first black staff photographer and writer at Life magazine and the first African-American to write and direct a Hollywood feature film. In honor of Parks, who would have turned 100 this year, the Howard Greenberg Gallery on East 57th Street between Park and Madison avenues is hosting two simultaneous exhibitions dedicated to his life’s work.
Both collections will be on view beginning Sept. 14.
Among the work that will be on display is the image widely regarded as Parks’ signature photograph. A riff on the 1930 painting “American Gothic,” the photo depicts a black woman named Ella Watson, a cleaning woman in Washington, D.C., who told Parks about the bigotry and discrimination she faced in her daily life.
The image, taken in 1942, shows Watson holding a broom in front of an American flag and became a symbol of the then-nascent civil rights movement.
Among the other pieces on display are photographs meant to illustrate scenes from the Ralph Ellison novel “Invisible Man,” as well as a number of images from 1956 that were only recently uncovered in a storage box.
Parks, whose work is also currently on display at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, died in 2006 at the age of 93, but his work continues to have a profound impact.
"It's interesting to see how important he was to people,” said Leslie Parks, Parks’ daughter, who attended the opening of the exhibit uptown earlier this month. “For me, he was my father.”
“Contact: Gordon Parks, Ralph Ellison, and ‘Invisible Man,’” curated by Glenn Ligon, and “Gordon Parks: Centennial” will be on view from Sept. 14 to Oct. 27 at the Howard Greenberg Gallery, located at 41 E. 57th St.