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Review of Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America

weatherford_gordon parksGordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America
by Carole Boston Weatherford; 
illus. by Jamey Christoph
Primary   Whitman   32 pp.
3/15     978-0-8075-3017-7   $16.99   g

Weatherford (Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood, rev. 5/14; Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane, rev. 5/08) presents the life of groundbreaking African American photographer Gordon Parks, whose iconic 1942 photo “American Gothic” — showing a black cleaning woman standing in front of an American flag, holding a broom and a mop — became a lasting symbol for civil rights, a visual metaphor for racial inequity in the United States. Straightforward present-tense text (“his white teacher tells her all-black class, You’ll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know?”) provides details about Parks’s life, beginning with his 1912 birth in rural Kansas (the youngest of fifteen, he was stillborn before a doctor brought him back to life). The story goes on to describe the death of his mother and his move to Minnesota; his early years doing odd jobs, then buying his first camera (“That $7.50 is the best money he will ever spend”); his time in Chicago and a dawning social consciousness; and his work as a Farm Securities Administration photographer in Washington DC. “Boiling mad, Parks vows to lay bare racism with his lens.” Illustrations that recreate Parks’s photographs appear throughout to mark time, capture moments, and reflect the real-life work of “one of the most important photographers of the 20th century.” Browns, tans, and yellows infuse the images with warmth, while cooler hues — blues and purples — catch the light. An appended “About Gordon Parks” spread tells more about this humanitarian and “Renaissance man” who also wrote books, directed movies (Shaft), and composed music. There’s also an author’s note that gives Weatherford’s personal connection to Parks, but there are no sources (and there’s a slight factual discrepancy between the main text and the appended information).

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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