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GORDON PARKS

Published on 10 January 2021 at 08:37

For “The Restraints,” Parks followed three Alabaman families during the 1950s, at what was both the height and turning point of de jure segregation in the South. Jim Crow was still firmly in place, but what Parks’ photographs evidence is the fact that around this time, it was beginning to be seriously examined and questioned. The Thorton, Causey, and Tanner families are not among the cannon figures of the Civil Rights mythos, nor will these scenes of them buying ice cream, clothes shopping, or relaxing at home likely become part of the historical narrative of the movement. However, what Parks offers is something that bears an important relation to historical drama. Parks reveals how segregation was experienced on the level of the everyday, through the personal narratives of these three families. Whereas history casts a reductive eye on events, pitting protagonists against antagonists, with a clear set of themes, motives, and vocabulary terms, lived experience is much less sensational. Parks’ photographs not only show how public spaces were divided but also the gray areas where these divisions prove themselves inept and absurd. History divides; Parks opens opportunities to unify.

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