Howard University recently acquired legendary photographer Gordon Park’s collection, including 252 images documenting everyday life, local events, and students at the historically Black college in Washington, DC.
Parks, a prominent photographer, writer, and musician, was the first Black filmmaker to direct a major Hollywood film, paving the way for other African American men and women in the industry. His artistic achievement captured daily life in the Jim Crow South and neighborhoods in Harlem, Chicago, and Washington, the Washington Post reported.
According to a press release obtained by EBONY, the Gordon Parks Legacy Collection will be housed in the university’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, providing students and faculty full access to timeless photographs dating back to his earliest work in the 1940s through the 1990s.
Benjamin Talton, director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, said the collection includes portraits of Black residents in Chicago and Minneapolis while ending with a powerful piece featuring Spike Lee.
“Gordon Parks is central to telling the story of African American life and bringing humanity to that narrative,” Talton said. “Howard University is at the center of the African American experience globally. Obviously, Black life meant something to Gordon Parks. To have a Gordon Parks collection at Howard University is like a foot in a shoe, and I think he’d be pleased.”
Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Executive Director of The Gordon Parks Foundation, said the photographs would offer individuals working in various industries an opportunity to study Parks’ work and the impact he had on the Black community.
“This landmark collection of photographs by one of the great chroniclers of Black American life provides artists, journalists and scholars at Howard University with a new resource to study and embrace the lasting impact of Gordon Parks,” he said. “As a photographer working in segregated Washington, D.C., in 1942, Parks established his first connections with Howard, which then embodied many of the values that his work came to represent. For him, that was a learning experience, which makes Howard a fitting place to keep his art alive.”
Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, President of Howard University, shared his excitement as the recipient of the classic photographs from the New York-based foundation.
“Howard University is proud to be the recipient of such an important collection of work by African American artist and photojournalist Gordon Parks,” he explained. “Mr. Parks was a trailblazer whose documentation of the lived experiences of African Americans, especially during the civil rights period, inspired empathy, encouraged cultural and political criticism, and sparked activism among those who viewed his work. Having a collection of his timeless photographs in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center will allow Howard University faculty, students and visiting scholars to draw on his work and build upon his legacy of truth-telling and representation through the arts.”
“They are not just photographs. They are studies. Gordon Parks immersed himself in Chicago, in Harlem, in Washington, in Rio de Janeiro,” Talton said. “It is about the art, but it is about Gordon Parks the person. It’s about technique, and light and angles, but also about dropping into the second half of the 20th century.”
Throughout his career, Parks was honored for his achievements by receiving the Spingarn Medal in 1972, the National Medal of Arts in 1988, the PGA Oscar Micheaux Award in 1993, and an NAACP Image Award in 2003.