Gordon Parks: American Gothic

Gordon Parks and Ella Watson


This book is not yet published, but will be available from June 2024.

ISBN: 9783969992517 Category:


I took [Watson] into this woman’s office and there was the American flag, and I stood her up with her mop hanging down, with the American flag hanging down, Grant Wood style, and did this marvelous portrait, which [Roy] Stryker thought was just about the end. He said, “My God, this can’t be published, but it’s a start.” – Gordon Parks, 1964

American Gothic, Gordon Parks’ 1942 portrait of government worker Ella Watson, is among the most celebrated photographs of the twentieth century. Created as part of an extensive collaboration between the photographer and his subject, it is at once a record of one woman’s position within the racial, professional and economic hierarchies that stratified the nation’s capital and Parks’ visual reckoning with the realities of living in racially segregated Washington, D.C. Through his work with Watson-a custodian in the government building where he worked-Parks composed an intimate portrait of Black life by focusing on everyday activities, from work routines to family meals and church services. The resulting photographs trace a remarkably intimate portrait of Watson as a multidimensional figure, cherished by her community and vitally important within the civic sphere. American Gothic – Gordon Parks and Ella Watson provides a comprehensive overview of this pivotal series of photographs, including more than 50 images, some never published before, and additional archival material.

Additional information

Weight 300 g
Dimensions 25 x 29 cm
Publisher name Steidl
Publication date 26 June 2024
Number of pages 192
Format Hardback
Contributors Series edited by Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Edited by Casey Riley and Philip Brookman, Text by Melanee C. Harvey, Hank Willis Thomas, Salamishah Tillet, and Deborah Willis
Dimensions 25 x 29 cm
Weight 300 g


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Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was one of the twentieth century's preeminent American photographers. Beginning in the 1940s and through the dawn of the twenty-first century, he created work that focused on social justice, race relations, the civil rights movement and the African American experience. Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks won a Julius Rosenwald Fund fellowship in 1942, and went on to create groundbreaking work for the Farm Security Administration and magazines such as Ebony, Vogue and Life, where he was staff photographer for more than two decades. Beyond his work in photography, Parks was a respected film director, composer, memoirist, novelist and poet, who left behind an exceptional body of work that is a powerful record and interpretation of American life and culture.

Ella Watson (1883-1980) is best known for the seminal 1942 photographs Gordon Parks made of her while he was on a fellowship at the Farm Security Administration in Washington, D.C. Among her own community she was a strong woman of faith who worked hard at a series of menial government cleaning jobs to support her family. Born Ellen Hearns in Washington on 29 March 1883, she grew up in the segregated nation's capital and was married at 18 to George Watson. She was a devoted mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, who raised three generations of children, and a long-standing member of the Verbrycke Spiritual Church. Watson's brief collaboration with Parks helped write one of the most powerful stories of African American labor, family and devotion during World War II and the early years of the American civil rights movement.