Gordon Parks exhibit highlights his legacy as a storyteller

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Photographs by Gordon Parks will be on display at the Minnesota Museum of American Art. (The Gordon Parks Foundation)

The work of a renowned photographer with Twin Cities roots is being featured at the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul.

The late Gordon Parks started his photography career in St. Paul. He later went on to work for Vogue, Glamour and Life magazines.

For Robin Hickman-Winfield, honoring the work of her great uncle is a passion project. 

"It's keeping that promise to Uncle Gordon that his legacy his life and his living will not be in vain," said Hickman-Winfield.

Hickman-Winfield curated a new exhibit at the Minnesota Museum of American Art called “A Choice of Weapons” after legendary African-American photojournalist Gordon Parks' autobiography of the same name.

The show features nearly two dozen photos by Parks, who used his camera to paint a picture of the black experience in America from the Jim Crow era through the Civil Rights Movement. 

''Photographers are storytellers and he told an American story," she said.

Hickman-Winfield says Parks actually discovered his love of photography after he moved to St. Paul as a teenager. Whether it was his iconic take on American Gothic, portraits of celebrities like Muhammad Ali or snapshots of everyday people, Hickman-Winfield says Parks captured the humanity of his subjects, while fighting against poverty, violence and racism at the same time.

"One thing I heard him tell young people was that shooting my camera was more powerful than shooting a gun,” she said. “That's very relevant today."

Park's pictures may be portraits of the past, but Hickman-Winfield hopes they encourage a new generation to follow in his footsteps in the future.

“Imagery is very powerful to inspire,” said Hickman-Winfield. “We know we need to be presenting correct narratives of a people. We must do it."

The exhibit also features the work of Brooklyn-based photographer Jamel Shabazz, who has been called the Gordon Parks of today. The exhibit will be on display at the Minnesota Museum of American Art through April 19.