The “Gordon Parks: Segregation Story” exhibit opening this week at the Columbus Museum showcases a collection of 12 photographs taken in 1956 by the Life magazine staff photographer.
The original collection of photographs ran as a photo essay in Life less than a year after the Montgomery bus boycott. The essay, titled “The Restraints: Open and Hidden,” was one of many ways the magazine addressed the social inequalities of the Jim Crow South, according to the museum’s website.
The works presented in the exhibit are from the collection of the Do Good Fund, a local Columbus nonprofit.
Jonathan Walz, the museum’s director of curatorial affairs and curator of American art, says the exhibit is incredibly relevant to today’s societal struggles.
“Recent news headlines unfortunately confirm that the institutionalized structures of bias and discrimination documented in the photographs of Gordon Parks’s ‘Segregation Story’ series still exist today,” he said. “These images remain important records of a horrible period in American history, a time, perhaps, that we would prefer to forget. These photographs remind us that others have engaged in the struggle for basic rights before us and these pictures have the potential to inspire or impel us to make the contemporary world a better place.”
The Columbus Museum partnered with Columbus State University students in co-curating this project. Waltz said students of various backgrounds shared their own observations about the photographs in the exhibition
“These interpretations — and the exhibition as a whole — are further testimony to art’s capacity for social engagement and change,” he said.
CSU professor Hannah Israel addressed the process said she was impressed by how the students responded to this project.
“Last spring semester, Professor Michele McCrillis’s art history class called ‘Documentary Photography and Film’ at CSU participated in a project in conjunction with the ‘Gordon Parks: Segregation Story’ for the Columbus Museum,” she said. “The participating students traveled to Mobile, Ala., and created a blog called ‘The Gordon Parks Project — The Stories We Tell’ in response to their experiences.”
Gordon Parks was one of the most well-known photographers of the 20th century. He originally became famous for his work as a photographer for the government’s Farm Security Administration under the New Deal. His work documenting the social structure and racial inequalities of the South garnered him much attention and acclaim.
Parks later became the first African-American to write and direct a feature film. His work can be seen all over the world today.
If You Go...
What: ‘Gordon Parks: Segregation Story
When: Oct. 1-Dec. 11
Where: Yarbrough Gallery, Columbus Museum, 1251 Wynnton Road