Gordon Parks

The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957

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ISBN: 9783958296961 Category:

Description

When Life magazine asked Gordon Parks to illustrate a recurring series of articles on crime in the United States in 1957, he had already been a staff photographer for nearly a decade, the first African American to hold this position. Parks embarked on a six-week journey that took him and a reporter to the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Unlike much of his prior work, the images made were in color. The resulting eight-page photo-essay “The Atmosphere of Crime” was noteworthy not only for its bold aesthetic sophistication, but also for how it challenged stereotypes about criminality then pervasive in the mainstream media. They provided a richly-hued, cinematic portrayal of a largely hidden world: that of violence, police work and incarceration, seen with empathy and candor.

Parks rejected clich├ęs of delinquency, drug use and corruption, opting for a more nuanced view that reflected the social and economic factors tied to criminal behavior and a rare window into the working lives of those charged with preventing and prosecuting it. Transcending the romanticism of the gangster film, the suspense of the crime caper and the racially biased depictions of criminality then prevalent in American popular culture, Parks coaxed his camera to do what it does best: record reality so vividly and compellingly that it would allow Life’s readers to see the complexity of these chronically oversimplified situations. The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957 includes an expansive selection of never-before-published photographs from Parks’ original reportage.

My assignment: explore crime across America. A journey through hell… The year was 1957. I rode with detectives through shadowy districts, climbed fire escapes, broke through windows and doors with them. Brutality was rampant. Violent death showed up from dawn to dawn. Gordon Parks

Co-published with The Gordon Parks Foundation and The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Additional information

Weight 994 g
Dimensions 26 x 29.9 cm
Publisher name Steidl
Publication date 26 August 2020
Number of pages 168
Format Hardback
Contributors Series edited by Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr.
Dimensions 26 x 29.9 cm
Weight 994 g
Gordon Parks was born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912. An itinerant laborer, he worked as a brothel pianist and railcar porter, among other jobs, before buying a camera at a pawnshop, training himself, and becoming a photographer. In addition to his storied tenures photographing for the Farm Security Administration (1941-45) and Life magazine (1948-72), Parks evolved into a modern-day Renaissance man, finding success as a film director, writer and composer. The first African-American director to helm a major motion picture, he helped launch the blaxploitation genre with his film Shaft (1971). He wrote numerous memoirs, novels and books of poetry, and received many awards, including the National Medal of Arts and more than 50 honorary degrees. Parks died in 2006.