Rhona Hoffman Gallery is pleased to present Gordon Parks’s fourth solo exhibition with the gallery, The Early Years: 1942 - 1963. One of the preeminent photographers of the twentieth century and committed to social justice throughout his life, Parks is best known for his documentation of African-American life, both in urban and rural environments, and his focus on civil rights. Many of the photographs in this exhibition were captured during Parks’ time as a staff photographer at Life magazine, where he was the first African-American to be hired in that position, in 1948.

In this exhibition, the viewer is able to see Parks’s remarkably formal agility as he synthesizes multiple visual languages, drawing from his rural Kansas roots to the streets of Paris. These photos take in the myriad experiences and wide ranging histories of this tumultuous period while finding specific and poignant human moments in each setting. Parks uses his unique lens to draw out the universal truths of the era while carving out a place for himself and a vision uniquely his own. Parks's visual style was honed and shaped during this time by new experiences while keeping a clear, instinctual, formal continuity. 

As the title denotes, the exhibition is comprised of photographs produced earlier in the artist’s career, in locations spanning Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, New York, Kansas, Maine, Alabama, Chicago, Paris, Canada, and Brazil. The content of The Early Years: 1942 - 1963 depicts intimate familial moments from the home, as is the case with Ella Watson with Her Grandchildren, Washington, D.C., 1942 and Untitled, Anacostia, D.C., 1942; migratory imagery, apparent in Car Loaded with Furniture on Highway, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1946; documentation of American workers during the period following the Great Depression (Grease Plant Workers, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1946); as well as images of abandoned homes and roads that feel distinctly Americana, crowds of French photographers clambering to capture President Dwight D. Eisenhower and of nuns congregating in Chicago, IL. A recurrent theme in some of the photographs is also children, a subject Parks returned to throughout his career. Photographing children allowed Parks to expose contemporary issues of racial, social, and economic inequality, while also often presenting the possibility of a hopeful future.

The photographs in The Early Years: 1942 - 1963 provide foresight into what a young Parks would develop into as a photographer and artist. The individuals and settings Parks chose to document during this special window of time remained subjects and atmospheres that he would continue to privilege throughout his artistic tenure. The images from the exhibition depict an America that is in a state of transition and flux, by a self-taught photographer who would transform into one of the most celebrated documentarians and artists of our time.

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Section 1

Car Loaded with Furniture on Highway, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1946

Ella Watson with Her Grandchildren, Washington, D.C., 1942

Untitled, Anacostia, D.C., 1942

Untitled, Washington, D.C. 1942.

Grease Plant Workers, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1946

Car Loaded with Furniture on Highway, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1946

Prairie Land, Alberta, Canada, 1945

Place de la Concorde, Paris, France, 1950

Photographers Waiting for Arrival of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Paris, France, 1951

Street Scene, Harlem, New York, 1952