Howard University just got their hands on over 250 photographs taken by legendary photographer Gordon Parks. The pictures represent over 50 years of Parks’ work and include some of his earliest photos taken in the 1940s, making it the most comprehensive collection of Parks’ artwork in the world. This massive windfall of legendary artwork was part gift, part purchase for the HBCU, and it is part of The Gordon Parks Foundation’s mission to preserve the artist’s legacy by making his work available to the public.
“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,” said Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Executive Director of The Gordon Parks Foundation in a release shared with The Root.
The new Gordon Parks Legacy Collection will take up residence at Howard’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, where it will be organized by theme into 15 distinct groups. The collection will include some of Parks’ most notable photographs, including Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun, New York, New York, 1959 and Duke Ellington in Concert, New York, 1960. There will also be photos taken later in his career, including supermodel Iman from the 1970s and film maker Spike Lee from 1990. But viewers will also get a glimpse of some lesser-known images, such as Robert Todd Duncan, one of the first African Americans to sing in a major opera company and musical conductor Charles Dean Dixon, the first African American guest conductor of The New York Philharmonic.
Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, President of Howard University is thrilled to have Parks’ work come to his campus and hopes the work will inspire those who see it. He said in a statement:
“Howard University is proud to be the recipient of such an important collection of work by African American artist and photojournalist Gordon Parks. 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.”
Photographer, filmmaker, musician and author Gordon Parks used his camera to shine a spotlight on issues of civil rights and poverty in America for Life magazine and other major publications. In 1969, he became the first Black American to write and direct a major feature film, The Learning Tree, based on his semi-autobiographical novel. And in 1971, he directed Shaft, which introduced the world to the coolest Black detective and put Blaxploitation films on the map.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for both Howard University and The Gordon Parks Foundation. Gordon Parks’ work helped define American art in the 20th century, and there is no better place poised to help safeguard his legacy than the Mecca of black education,” said Jelani Cobb, Board Member of The Gordon Parks Foundation.