One of the gifts and curses about living in the shadow of Washington, DC is the reciprocity between the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District. It’s a boon when it comes to income taxes because I don’t have to pay taxes to both DC—where I work—and Maryland—where I reside. It’s a bust when it comes to school residency though as Northern Virginia Community College and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reminded me late last year when I had to fork over $1400 in out-of-state fees. Instead of learning more about the photographic techniques of the Farm Security Administration photographers I learned about in History of Photography last semester, I’ve been learning about the processing side of photography in Intro to Digital Photography at Montgomery College. That brings me to this week’s Black History subject in the Flashback Friday series: Gordon Parks.
How I first came across this subject? I was put on to the late Parks in the aforementioned History of Photography class at NVCC’s Alexandria campus. The instructor introduced us to a group of photographers from the New Deal era that went around the country and captured some of the most iconic photographs in American history. We’re talking Walker Evans, who captured the famous Allie Mae Burroughs image; Dorothea Lange, who snapped the Japanese-American children pledging allegiance to the American flag shortly before being shipped off to internment camps; Russell Lee, who captured the young boys on Chicago’s South Side before they scurried off the Sunday church services. The best of the bunch, to me at least, was Gordon Parks. He snapped Ella Watson in the FSA Building in the iconic remake of the original “American Gothic” photo.
What it meant to me then? I was actually impressed by him. A self-taught photographer who came from nothing and made it all the way to one of the most coveted photography assignments of the day. I had heard of his work as a film director by way of watching Shaft but his work as a photographer was some next level stuff.
What it means to me now? Not much has changed in my thinking of Parks. After all, I did just take the class last semester.