The J. Paul Getty Museum will present an exhibition of photographs by celebrated photographer and film director Gordon Parks, scheduled from July 9 through Nov. 10 at the Getty Center in Los Angeles
“Gordon Parks: The Flávio Story” explores one of the most important photo essays Parks produced for Life magazine and traces how its publication prompted an extraordinary sequence of events over several decades. The exhibition is co-organized by the Getty and the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto, Canada in partnership with Instituto Moreira Salles, Brazil, and The Gordon Parks Foundation, New York.
“Gordon Parks’ photographs chronicling social justice, civil rights, and the African-American experience in the United States are both a vital historical document and a compelling body of artistic work,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “And, of all his varied projects, Parks considered the photographs of Flávio among his most important achievements. The great impact that it had, and still has today, can only be appreciated by presenting these photographs in their full socio-political context, which is what this exhibition does for the first time.”
An accomplished filmmaker (“Shaft”), composer, writer and poet, Parks is best remembered for his prolific career as a photographer. He became the first African-American photographer on staff at Life magazine, where he covered subjects ranging from fashion to social injustice. In 1961 the magazine sent him to Brazil with a specific assignment: to document poverty in Rio de Janeiro for a special series on Latin America. Told to photograph the hardworking father of a large, impoverished household, Parks all but disregarded these instructions and turned his attention instead to one resident in particular—an industrious, severely asthmatic 12-year-old boy named Flávio da Silva who lived in Catacumba, one of Rio’s working class neighborhoods known as favelas.
Over the course of several weeks Parks photographed Flávio as he performed household chores and entertained his seven brothers and sisters—daily activities that were often interrupted by debilitating asthma attacks. Having himself grown up in abject poverty in Kansas, Parks felt deep sympathy for his subject and forged an emotional bond with him. Ultimately Parks advocated for a comprehensive photo essay dedicated to Flávio’s story in the pages of Life magazine. Editors responded by publishing a 12-page piece, titled “Freedom’s Fearful Foe: Poverty,” in June 1961. The exhibition will include images from this spread, as well as outtakes from the assignment.
“Parks regarded poverty as ‘the most savage of all human afflictions,’ in no small part because he was born into destitution,” said Amanda Maddox, co-curator of the exhibition and an associate curator at the Getty Museum. “As a photographer he consciously wielded his camera as a weapon—his chosen term—in an attempt to combat economic and racial inequality. Viewed in this context, his documentation of Flávio da Silva—for Life and beyond—reveals the complexity of his empathetic approach and the inherent difficulties of representing someone else’s personal story—a story that resonated with many people over many years—in any form.”
In addition to more than 100 photographs, the exhibition will also include original issues of Life magazine that featured Flávio’s story, previously unseen ephemera related to Flávio’s time in Denver, and private memos, correspondence, and records held by Life magazine and Parks.
The Getty Museum is located at 1200 Getty Center Dr., Ste. 100. For more details, call (310) 440-7300.