My wife, Vanessa and I, went to the High Museum this past Saturday to take in the Gordon Parks exhibit one more time. I can’t get enough of his work. What inspires me about Gordon Parks is that he saw the world like no other photographer. He had a unique vision inspired by what W. E. B. DuBois would call a “double consciousness.” Parks had to understand the world his employers saw and then shoot what he saw and work between the lines to get his work published.
I am convinced that African American photographers, coming from a minority culture, see the world differently than their dominant culture counterparts. The reason so many African American photographers work doesn’t get the praise their white colleagues get is that those defining the medium and passing out praise don’t see as African Americans see.
Gordon Parks way of seeing was not only exhibited in his photos but also in his music, his writings and his motion pictures. He stands head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries. Not only does his photography stand above that of his colleagues but Parks created art in multiple forms that his colleagues couldn’t even dream of, then or now.
The African American artist can do more and still be seen less. I don’t know if those from the dominant culture can comprehend or see how minorities see? I don’t know if one can fully understand what one has not sought to appreciate? When we refer to the masters of photography you very rarely if ever hear the names of the great African American photographers, women or persons from the two-thirds world. We are still worshiping at the altar of white male photographers. If we worship them is this a form of idolatry?
Can you see the work of the modern day African American artist if you don’t understand the roots of his or her work? If you don’t appreciate the work of his or her ancestors and historic influences how can you fully appreciate what African American artist are creating today?
To: Dr. Gordon Parks:
I just want to say thank you for letting us see the world as you saw it. Your work continues to inspire so many of us to see as we see and to dare to tell our story. Every time I see your work I am inspired to go out and shoot, make a video, tell a story and dare to share it the way I see it. I celebrate you yet again!
Does American education fully celebrate and incorporate the contributions of those who aren’t members of the privileged dominant culture? Are the arts as racist as the rest of America? Are artists being taught to be disconnected from their cultural heritage?