GRADUATION '99 The Michigan Daily Gradu
AMERICA WITH AN OPEN SHUTTER
ation Edition - Thursday, April 15, 1999 - 5B
Gordon Parks uses visual photography to translate emotions
By Aaron Rich
Weekend, etc. Editor
DETROIT - Our modern percep-
tion of the world is - for better or
worse - made up of visual images,
including television programs, films
and photographs. Many times it is dif-
ficult for us to separate the "actual"
world from that presented to us in
these various media. It is not easy to
think of Bill Clinton without seeing a
video-taped, resigned and frustrated
man testifying in front of a grand jury.
In evaluating our history as
Americans there are some equally
visual signs that stick out in our minds
to represent and, many times, entirely
sum up an entire epoch. A group of
"fore-fathers" standing around the
signing of the Declaration of
Independence is the totality of the sen-
timent behind the American
Revolution; a beaten Kent State
University Student lying on the
bloody ground is the epitome of the
anti-Vietnam movement through the
'60s and '70s; a triumphant Mark
McGwire circling the bases, with tree-
trunk arms raised in celebration sym-
bolizes the climactic, and heroic levels
that athletes can attain in their careers.
Likewise, a photograph of a work-
ing class black woman standing with a
mop in one hand and a broom in the
other in front of an American flag is
the quintessence of the pre-civil rights
era treatment of minorities.
Gordon Parks, the genius eye
behind that image, has always main-
tained a respect and unrelenting
understanding for the fact that a well-
constructed image has the power to
sway people. He has never missed a
moment to use his talent as a photog-
rapher to transmit such visuals.
Opening this Sunday at the Detroit
Institute of Arts - and on display
through April 25 - "Half Past
Autumn: The Art of Gordon Parks,"
shows the life work of the American
photographer whose work has -
whether we recognize it or not -
affected the way we see the world in
which we live and in many ways,
changed the environment itself.
Parks, the youngest of 15 children,
was born in Fort Scott, Kan. in 1912.
As a young man, he picked up a cam-
era and taught himself the basics of
photography - simply as a hobby.
When all other career opportunities
seemed to be dead ends, the artist took
his camera and began shooting fash-
ion photographs for small boutiques
After a few years, he moved to
Chicago, where the south side's poor
black population proved to be an end-
less source of inspiration and subject
matter for his work.
His first job as a professional pho-
tographer came in 1942 when Parks
submitted his portfolio to Roy Stryker,
the director of the Farm Security
Administration. The New Deal office
paid photographers, such as Dorothea
Lange, Walker Evans and Arthur
Rothstein, to photograph poor farmers
hit hard by the Depression. Parks was
hired by Stryker as the first black pho-
tographer on staff in the agency. Parks'
boss tried to prepare him for the racism
he would face while on the road for the
bureau, but, in the end, he was forced
to learn on his own the hate that some
people have for his race.
This awareness of race, racism and
hatred is a constant thread that runs
through much of his work. From shots
of iconoclast boxer Muhammad Ali, to
pictures of gang warfare from 1948
Harlem even to color photographs of
Spanish matadors, Parks refers to a
unique sense of pride, dignity, honor
and violence rarely seen by one sole
Another unique aspect of Parks'
oeuvre is the diversity of images and
situations captured on film. Most
artists are known for one genre of
work or another - Chardin painted
domestic scenes, Calder made
mobiles and stabiles, Lebowitz shoots
portraits. But Parks cannot be labeled
with such ease. His work ranges in
subject matter from Berkeley, Calif.
Black Panther meetings led by
Eldridge Cleaver, to varied slices of
European life to recent colorful land-
scapes and still-lifes shot purely for
the beauty of the interplay between
color, light and shape.
Beyond this, Parks seems to have
been nearly omnipresent from the '40s
through the '70s, taking pictures of
now-immortal people such ' as
Malcolm X, Duke Ellington and
Langston Hughes in many major
American cities. Important gatherings
and movements from the dynamic
'60s seem to have been caught by his
unblinking lens. His interests lay in
South America and Europe as well,
where he spent extensive time with the
people of urban and remote locations.
It's no surprise that Parks' single
best-known work is probably his 1971
motion picture "Shaft," starring
Richard Roundtree as the tough, and
now cliche, "black private dick."
No surprise that even in the contro-
versial "blaxploitation" genre, the
director was able to set forth his own
view of the world - one filled with
style and fashion, racism and the black
The nearly-300 images that will be
on display in the exhibition at the
DIA. represent only a fraction of the
life-work of the artist. Some of the
'works are well-known, some are more
rare. Each one shows a piece of histo-
ry - whether personal and minor or
national, international and grand.
Parks' work cannot be qualified and
dismissed simply as "African
American art," simply because his
scope is so much larger, and to cate-
gorize it as such would miss his point
entirely. What Parks gently teaches us
is that his life and history - as seen,
through his camera - is our lives and
histories. Forget the fact that he is a
Black, white or of whatever race, or
background; the stories that Parks'
pictures transmit represent the entirely
of the images in our collective psyche.
We cannot dismiss a 1963 black
Muslim rally, just as we cannot throw
out images of black pilots or '50s New
York City police detectives. To reject
these icons would be to ignore valu-
able aspects that are delicate and
deeply woven into our culture.
At age 86, Parks has reached the
autumn of his career and life. But this
threshold is only crossed with help
from years of working and fighting.
"Half Past Autumn: The Art of
Gordon Parks," a show of the best
photographs from more than 50 years
of effort, demonstrates how the human
spirit can accomplish limitless
heights. And that this trek can be
exceptionally beautiful and powerful.
- This story originally ran in the <
Feb. 4, 1999 edition of Weekend, etc.
Magazine. The Gordon Parks exhibit
continues through next Sunday, April-
Yugovich presents her Bachelor
-26 at the Media Union Video
ption, with special guest Action
pril 23 from 610 p.m.
Courtesy of Gordon tParks
"American Gothic," taken in 1942, is one of the thousands of photographs Parks
shot while working for the Farm Security Administration.
experience. Above all, "Shaft" shows
the story of an artist discontent with
the injustice and built-in maladies of
modern American society. (Parks' son,
Gordon Parks, Jr., later directed
"Superfly," perhaps the second-most
respected blaxploitation film.)
Parks' career did not stop at simply
film stock trades; he also wrote and
published poetry and prose. The basis
of these works, just like any of his cre-
ations is his worldly life.
Daily Photo Arts Editor AdrianaI
of Fine Arts exhibition April 20
Studio on North Campus. A recei
Tiger, will be held on A
* Elroy quick to comment on politics
By Ed Sholinsky
Daily Film Editor
Candid describes James Ellroy
very well. He wrote his memoir
"My Dark Places" so he could be
candid not only with himself, but
also with his readers.
And this carries over to much of
Ellroy's other work. The author of
many grisly crime novels and the
new collection of "reportage and
fiction from the underside of L.A.,"
"Crime Wave," Ellroy takes a no
holds barred approach to his writ-
Scribing ;stories that he peppers
with sharp, concise sentences and
real people, Ellroy has managed to
create a social history of LA in his
novels, short stories and non-fic-
tion. And this comes from his rela-
tionship to the city itself.
"Well, I'm from there," Ellroy
told the Daily in a recent interview.
"And my mother's murder (took
place) in L.A. when I was 10 years
old, and it sparked my full obses-
sion with L.A. crime and L.A. mys-
This resulted in Ellroy's "L.A.
Quartet," the novels "The Black
Dahlia," "The Big Nowhere,"
"L.A. Confidential" and "White
Jazz." But don't expect Ellroy to
write anymore novels about Los
"I took burnt out, psychosexually
driven guys as far as they could go
in the 'L.A. Quartet."' Ellroy says.
"And I made a consciou.s decision
that L.A. and I are quits as a fic-
tional town ... What I want to write
about is the totality of America."
And though the short fiction in
"Crime Wave," which will be in
stores March first, is set in Los
Angeles, Ellroy took a large step
towards exploring America more
with his last novel "American
Tabloid," (Time Magazine's novel of
the year in 1995).
In that same vein, the untitled
novel that Ellroy is working on now
is the sequel to "American Tabloid."
The sequel "picks up again five
minutes later," from where
"American Tabloid" ended,
moments before the Kennedy assas-
sination. After Ellroy finishes this
novel, he will write the third part of
the story, in what will make up "The
Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy."
Though Ellroy found inspiration
for "American Tabloid" in Don
DeLillo's novel "Libra," his past
has much to do with the fiction he
"What I want to do over the next
10 years or so is through Danny
Getchell's eyes time travel back and
forth between L.A.'s early 1970s
and 1980, and tell the story of
Danny Getchell, wildman."
And where will this time period
"Danny Getchell running a porno
bookstore in the early '70s.
Getting into all kinds of shit."
Specifically? "How old is Ronald
Reagan, 89? What are the odds
he'll be around 10 years fromnow?
Not'too good ... Well first cause
you've got Danny Getchell working
on Ronald Reagan's gubernatorial
Speaking of presidents and con-
troversy, being a crime writer Ellroy
almost wrote a story for GQ about
the recently acquitted President
Clinton. "I'm thrilled that he's
impeached," Ellroy answered when
asked about the approach he would
have taken to the story.
"I think he should be removed,"
says Ellroy. "And I think that it's
very obvious that he obstructed jus-
tice and lied. I also think that he's
an absolute, fucked up (guy). And
absolute cocksucking, bug eating
- This story originally appeared in
The Michigan Daily on Feb. 19,
1999, the day before Ellroy s read-
ing and signing at Shaman Drum
eontuyt aftte ticn6aft 1999
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Courtesy of Vintage Books
writes today. And the most impor-
tant factor in Ellroy's work is his
"What my mother's death did was
give [rise to] a great many dark
curiosities. Understand that the
most important even of my life (is
my mother's murder), but I didn't
get my talent there, I got my obses-
In addition to this, Ellroy has also
had to deal with prison, drug addic-
tion and alcoholism. Though behind
him, Ellroy states "I couldn't have
written the books if my life hadn't
played out in the manner that it hap-
And. this all works into the work
collected in "Crime Wave." Of the
three pieces of fiction included, two
feature the drugged out, psychotic
"Hush-Hush" reporter Danny
Getchell on his mad romps through
Los Angeles' dark side.
And while Ellroy only plans to
use Getchell in short fiction, not
novels, he has a lot planned for the
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