New York Times
January 28, 2011
By SUSAN HODARA
IN Gordon Parks’s 1942 photograph "American Gothic - Washington, D.C.,” a grim-faced cleaning woman in a well-worn polka-dot dress stands against the backdrop of an American flag. With a broom in one hand and a mop beside her, she stares directly at the camera.
In “Twins,” shot 46 years later by Mr. Parks’s daughter, Toni Parks, two equally unsmiling young girls wear frilly headdresses and festive tops. They, too, gaze straight into the lens.
These images and more are currently on view in “Bridging the Gap: Photography by Gordon Parks and Toni Parks,” at the Castle Gallery
at the College of New Rochelle. Curated by Katrina Rhein, the gallery’s director, the show is the first two-person exhibition featuring the father-daughter pair. It presents nearly 70 pieces from the college’s collection, including photographs spanning seven decades and an assortment of books and videos by and about the artists.
The relationship between the Parkses and the College of New Rochelle dates back 20 years. In 1991, in recognition of Mr. Parks’s work, the school opened the Gordon A. Parks Gallery and Cultural Arts Center
on its campus in the South Bronx; in 1992, it granted Mr. Parks an honorary degree. At the time, Ms. Parks was working at the college as both a counselor for adults returning to school and a photographer during graduations. She has since curated exhibitions at the Gordon A. Parks Gallery, and shown her work there on several occasions, most recently in a solo exhibition in 2009.
But exhibiting at the Castle Gallery, as well as showing her work alongside her father’s, remained unfulfilled goals until now. “This is a dream come true,” Ms. Parks said at the show’s opening in December.
Given the photographers’ familial relationship, gallery visitors might find themselves focusing on the parallels among the works rather than appreciating the individual images. But, Ms. Rhein said, “Each piece in this exhibition stands on its own. I believe there are as many dissimilarities as there are similarities.”
“Gordon was a mentor to Toni, schooling her on life and the arts, ” she said, but they had “different processes for seeking out subjects and creating works.”
Mr. Parks’s many accomplishments include directing the film adaptation of his autobiographical novel, “The Learning Tree,” in 1969, and the blaxploitation film “Shaft” in 1971; writing memoirs, novels and books of poetry; performing as a jazz pianist; and composing orchestral scores. But he was most prolific as a photographer. He was the first African-American to work for Vogue and Life magazines, with subjects ranging from well-known actors and entertainers to victims of abject poverty in the United States and abroad.
Both ends of this spectrum are represented here in 10 black-and-white photographs, which Mr. Parks donated to the college in 1991. Among them are highlights from his 20-year stint at Life, including “Red Jackson, Harlem,” part of his first assignment for the magazine, a photo essay shot in 1948 about the Midtowners gang; and “Bessie Fontenelle and Children at Welfare Office,” part of another photo essay, this one from 1968, taken during a monthlong stay in the Fontenelle family’s Harlem tenement. Then there’s Muhammad Ali after his fight with Henry Cooper in 1966, his face glistening with beads of sweat, the intensity of his glare palpable.
The exhibition’s title, proposed by Ms. Parks, conveys multiple meanings. One suggests the gap that Mr. Parks, who died in 2006, referred to in his 2005 memoir, “A Hungry Heart,” between the primarily white audiences of his magazine photos and the residents of the ghettos where he often shot. Another reference recognizes Mr. Parks’s middle name, Alexander, making his initials, G.A.P. Finally, the exhibit bridges the work of Mr. Parks, who discovered his photographic calling early in life, and Ms. Parks, who said she did not pick up a camera until she was in her 40s.
Given her father’s accomplishments and reputation, Ms. Parks’s avoidance of the field was understandable. “Of course he was intimidating!” she said. “That’s why it took me so long.”
A tall, slender woman with silver hair that falls past her shoulders, Ms. Parks, 70, was raised in White Plains, where she studied piano and musical composition; she currently lives in England. As soon as she started shooting, she said, she knew she had found her passion. She recalled presenting an early contact sheet to her father and telling him, “I don’t care what you say — this is me!”
The “me” that is on display in “Bridging the Gap” includes a dozen color shots of a dress rehearsal of “Martin: A Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.,” the five-movement ballet re-enacting Dr. King’s life that Mr. Parks wrote, scored and helped to choreograph, and that he later directed and narrated as a film. “It was my first professional assignment,” Ms. Parks said. “Martin” aired in 1990 on PBS on what would have been Dr. King’s birthday.
The exhibition also contains images taken by Ms. Parks in Manhattan between 1986 and 1993: black-and-white portraits and street scenes, and several Cibachrome prints, including an urban sunset and moonrise. “In New York, there are so many types of people and so many things happening within one block,” said Ms. Parks, who is a member of Kamoinge, a collective of African-American photographers founded in 1963 and based in New York. “Whatever I see that delights me, I take the photograph.”“Bridging the Gap: Photography by Gordon Parks and Toni Parks” runs through Feb. 20 at the Castle Gallery at the College of New Rochelle, 29 Castle Place, New Rochelle. Six of Mr. Parks’s feature films will be screened in the gallery on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 6 to 8 p.m., Feb. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15 and 16. For a schedule of films, gallery hours and more information: cnr.edu/cg or (914) 654-5423.