Press Release

The New Orleans Museum of Art presents Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument, an exhibition that explores the production of Parks’ first photographic essay, “Harlem Gang Leader,” for Life magazine in 1948.


“This project raises important questions about the role of photography in addressing social concerns, its use as a documentary tool, and its function in the world of publishing,” said Susan M. Taylor, NOMA’s Director. “We are delighted to be working with The Gordon Parks Foundation on this exhibition since it is a project that addressed many of the major issues that Parks would explore throughout his career.”


In 1948, Gordon Parks began a professional relationship withLife magazine that would last twenty-two years. For his first project, he proposed a series of pictures about the gang wars that were then plaguing Harlem, believing that if he could draw attention to the problem then perhaps it would be addressed through social programs or government intervention. As a result of his efforts, Parks gained the trust of one particular group of gang members and their leader, Leonard “Red” Jackson, and produced a series of pictures of them that are artful, emotive, poignant, touching, and sometimes shocking. From this larger body of work, twenty-one pictures were selected for reproduction in a graphic and adventurous layout in Life magazine.


At each step of the selection process-as Parks chose each shot, or as the picture editors atLife re-selected from his selection-any intended narrative was complicated by another curatorial voice.


Curator Russell Lord notes, “By the time the reader opened the pages of Life magazine, the addition of text, and the reader’s own biases further rendered the original argument into a fractured, multi-layered affair. The process leads to many questions: ‘What was the intended argument?’ and ‘Whose argument was it?’.”


Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument examines these questions through a close study of how Parks’ first Life picture essay was conceived, constructed and received.


The exhibition will include vintage photographs, original issues of Life magazine, contact sheets and proof prints all made available by The Gordon Parks Foundation. Additionally, the exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue also entitledGordon Parks: The Making of an Argument by Russell Lord, Freeman Family Curator of Photographs atNOMA, a foreword by Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Executive Director of The Gordon Parks Foundation and an afterword by Irvin Mayfield, Artistic Director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.


Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument is organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation.  Support for the exhibition is provided by Blaine Butler.