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On Gordon Parks: The Photograph as Protest

Photographer Erik Wahlstrom made this 9-minute video on the life and work of photographer Gordon Parks. It’s also a video that explores the question: “Can a photograph make a difference?”

One of the series’ by Parks explored in the video is the work found in the Parks photo book The Segregation Story. The photos were selected by The Gordon Parks Foundation from over 70 color transparencies that were discovered in 2011 (5 years after Parks’ death) in the bottom of an old storage bin marked “Segregation Series.” Parks had shot the photos on assignment for a Life magazine photo essay published in September 1956.

“When I look at these photographs, the single biggest thing that stands out to me is the dignity with which these people carry themselves,” Wahlstrom says. “In a time and place that’s done everything it can to disempower and dehumanize them, these men, women, and children carry themselves with a sort of pride that’s inspiring, and beautiful, and not just a little bit heartbreaking.

“That is, I think, the power of a photograph. More so than a video or a song, it allows us a window into a world and then asks us to fill in the blanks. Can a photograph change the world? I think it can. Parks’ images matter because they’re honest, beautiful, and overwhelmingly human.”

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