Gordon Parks exhibit at Minneapolis Institute of Art explores Black life

Gordon Parks bought his first camera when he was living in St Paul in the 1930s. 

Now his photographs exploring Black life are the focus of a new exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

"I'm thrilled. This has been four years in the making," said Casey Riley, Chair of Global Contemporary Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Through his lens, Parks captured some of the most compelling images of the 20th century and the exhibition brings one of his most successful creative collaborations into clearer view.

"It's such a privilege to have this particular series here because it's the first time that all of this material has been shown publicly in this way," said Riley. 

"American Gothic: Gordon Parks and Ella Watson" features nearly 60 photographs Parks took while working as a photography fellow at the Farm Security Administration in racially segregated Washington D.C. in 1942.

Most of the pictures are of Watson, who was a custodian in the building and allowed Parks to photograph various aspects of her life like care, faith, labor and community.

"What I really want people to understand is that she's not just a symbol. She is a human being and Gordon Parks, his incredible gift was to demonstrate the multifaceted nature of this person's life and identity," said Riley.

Museum officials say showcasing Parks' work is particularly meaningful because he developed his interest in photography while he lived in Minnesota.

"It's really special to have this series here because he's a hometown hero for us and there are deep connections. In fact, there are still living relatives of his here in the Twin Cities," said Riley.
Museum officials say the exhibition is more than just a series of snapshots.

It's a window into the world of African Americans before the Civil Rights movement, revealed through works of art."

"It really demonstrates a partnership between two Black federal employees at a pivotal moment in American history. I think the conversation, the visual story that unfolds between them is incredibly compelling and something that deserves our attention," said Riley.

The exhibition opened this past weekend and runs through June 23.