During the Spring 2019 semester, Pratt Institute Photography Professor Peter Kayafas’ “Curatorial Practices in Photography" class created a focused virtual exhibition on the life and work of Gordon Parks. The class visited The Gordon Parks Foundation archive in January and received an introduction to materials in the archive and to the staff. During the course, students utilized digital assets from the five-volume Gordon Parks: Collected Works and eight more monographs on Gordon Parks published in conjunction with Steidl and collaborating museums internationally. Kayafas writes, “The course stresse[d] research and presentation, as well understanding of the history of the creation of photography-based exhibitions, with the goal of providing useful curatorial experience.” At the conclusion of the class, Gordon Parks Foundation staff offered constructive criticism on the student’s research and virtual exhibition titled First Person: Gordon Parks.
In the words of student curators Ariana Boroumand, Rebekah Cione, Hak Dixon, Lauren Gerardi, John McBride, Alexandra Stearns (with Professor Peter Kayafas): First Person: Gordon Parks aims to address this sense of responsibility. Using images from three different photographic essays commissioned by Life, the exhibition considers the intimate relationships Parks formed with the subjects he photographed. Red Jackson from “Harlem Gang Leader” (1948), Flavio da Silva from “Poverty: Freedom’s Fearful Foe,” (1961), and the Fontenelles from “A Harlem Family” (1967), each tell stories uniquely framed by the trust Parks established with each respective subject. The truth-bearing burden of his camera, his choice weapon for social change, was lessened once those in front of it were familiar with the man behind it.