FORUM

  • Hilary Northcraft

PHOTOGRAPHER GORDON PARKS USED CAMERA AS WEAPON FOR CHANGE

As the first African American photographer on the staff of LIFE magazine, Gordon Parks placed himself in the American lexicon through his deeply human images of racial segregation and Black life in the US. A new documentary, A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks, which recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, proposes that “with his photography and filmmaking, Parks was able to create images of the Black community that allowed for them to be seen on their terms, and that this is why his work matters.” (ARTnews)


Parks used his camera as a weapon. He was a champion for social justice at home and abroad and his work grew beyond photography to include films and novels, most notably the 1971 blaxploitation film, Shaft. His work empowered generations of photographers to pick up a camera and document the American experience and Black life. To drive this point, the film opens with a quote from Devin Allen, whose photograph of a Black Lives Matter protest in Baltimore was featured on the cover of a 2015 issue of Time. While taking that photograph, Allen said, “For the first time, I understood what Gordon Parks was talking about: that the camera is a real weapon. I realized how powerful I am with a camera in my hand.”


Gordon Parks, American Gothic, 1942 - Library of Congress

While a public release date hasn’t been provided, the film is an HBO documentary, and it can be assumed that it will be available for streaming via the network soon. We’ll be keeping an eye out for that date, and you should too! In the meantime, brush up on your Parks knowledge by reading his autobiography of a similar name, A Choice of Weapons, written in 1966 and available at your favorite Black-owned bookstore.