Gordon Parks photography exhibit examines his mid-century aesthetic

The Gordon Parks Foundation will honor the legacy of Gordon Parks with a photography exhibition curated by 2022 Genevieve Young Fellow, Nicole R. Fleetwood. The exhibition, “Gordon Parks’s Mid-Century Aesthetic,” celebrates Parks’s mid-century modern design and aesthetic on the heels of the emergence of the Civil Rights movement, socio-economic and political uproar, and the revolutions within the entertainment industry. 

Opening December 6 at the foundation gallery, located at 48 Wheeler Ave in Pleasantville, NY, “Gordon Parks’s Mid-Century Aesthetic Exhibition” will feature photographs from Parks’ 1944/46 “Grease Plant” series, fashion images from 1949/50, and several rare images photographed during the same era. The images explore a crucial time in America during a time that encompassed War World II, the Cold War, and Black freedom struggles of the era.

“Nicole Fleetwood’s extraordinary research and writing offer new ways of looking at this decisive moment in history,” Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Executive Director of The Gordon Parks Foundation, said. “The Foundation is honored to be a thoroughfare that supports writers and makes accessible scholarly contributions to art history.”

In addition to honoring the works of Gordon Parks, the foundation will also salute 2022 Genevieve Young Fellow, Nicole R. Fleetwood as she curates the exhibition. Awarded annually the Genevieve Young Fellow is presented to a writer working in art history, journalism, and literature. The fellowship supports the research, development, and publication of a new project.

The award, launched in 2022 is a tribute to legendary book editor Genevieve Young, who was also Parks’s former wife. Young played a pivotal role in establishing the Gordon Parks Foundation in 2006. 

“As a Black child from the Midwest, I recall learning about Gordon Parks through his historic photography and film credits and becoming obsessed, not only by his works, his commitment to freedom, but by his style,” Nicole R. Fleetwood said. “I am delighted and honored to be able to explore Parks’s vision more expansively in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation, Not only did his images document several historic periods of the 20th century, his vision and sensibility helped shape a monumental time period in U.S. and global histories.”


The Gordon Parks Foundation supports and produces artistic and educational initiatives that advance the legacy and vision of Gordon Parks—recognized as the most significant American photographer of the 20th century, as well as a writer, musician, and filmmaker, who used the arts to further “the common search for a better life and a better world.”

Through exhibitions, publications, and public programs organized in collaboration with national and international institutions at its exhibition space in Pleasantville, New York, the Foundation provides access to, and supports understanding of, the work and contributions of Gordon Parks for artists, scholars, students, and the public. Through its year-round educational programming and annual grant-making initiatives, the Foundation champions current and future generations of artists and humanitarians whose work carries on Parks’s legacy.


Gordon Parks, Sr. posing with camera, 1945. Photograph by Morgan Smith and Marvin Smith.
Gordon Parks, Sr. posing with camera, 1945. Photograph by Morgan Smith and Marvin Smith. Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation.

In a career spanning more than 50 years, photographer, filmmaker, musician, and author Gordon Parks created an iconic body of work that made him one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1940s, he documented American life and culture with a focus on social justice, race relations, the civil rights movement, and the Black American experience.

Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks was drawn to photography as a young man. Despite his lack of professional training, he won a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in 1942; this led to a position with the photography section of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington, D.C., and later, the Office of War Information (OWI). By the mid-1940s, he was working as a freelance photographer for publications such as Vogue, Glamour, and Ebony.

Parks was hired in 1948 as a staff photographer for “Life” magazine, where he spent more than two decades creating some of his most groundbreaking work.

In 1969, he became the first Black American to write and direct a major feature film, “The Learning Tree,” based on his semi-autobiographical novel. His next directorial endeavor, “Shaft” (1971), helped define a genre known as Blaxploitation films. Parks continued photographing, publishing, and composing until his death in 2006.

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