This exhibition of forty photographs is drawn from the exceptionally strong holdings of photographs by Gordon Parks (1912-2006) at the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University. The Kansas native is a twentieth century icon whose images became a potent tool in supporting the post-war struggle for Civil Rights for African Americans. Many of the photographs found in the Ulrich collection focus on children. This exhibition highlights Parks’ empathetic and prescient photographs of young people rooted in his own experiences. “I suffered first as a child from discrimination, poverty,” he said. “So I think it was a natural follow from that that I should use my camera to speak for people who are unable to speak for themselves.” Some photographs in the exhibition capture the pleasures and innocence of childhood; others present the heart-wrenching injustices of poverty and racism as they impact those least able to change them; others still show young people as activists in the struggle against oppression. The exhibition highlights images from seven of the stories Parks produced at LIFE, as well as two portfolios created before and after his time at the magazine. Photographs of Harlem’s Fontanelle family, Black Muslims, and Flávio hang near photographs of Ella Watson from 1942 and Mohammed Ali from 1966. All remain as profoundly moving and impactful as when they first appeared on the pages of LIFE magazine. The title of the exhibition comes from a 1926 poem by Langston Hughes, “I, Too,” which captures the mixed emotions of self-assured pride and justified hurt felt by a black child in America.
Gordon Parks: I, too, am America is organized by the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University and curated by Dr. Ksenya Gurshtein. All images courtesy and copyright of the Gordon Parks Foundation.