Documentary Photograph or Work of Art?
Somehow photographer Gordon Parks managed to achieve both
Gordon Parks, March 1944. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation, GP.2022.074.
A recent exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh focused on previously unseen photos by Gordon Parks of workers in a grease factory taken during WWII. He was hired to take marketing photos for Standard Oil as part of a PR drive for the war effort.
“Photographing the grease plant at Pittsburgh was a pretty nasty job. It was nasty because in every building and on every floor grease was underfoot. The interiors in the older buildings were extremely dark and absorbed plenty of light, so it was necessary to use long extensions and many bulbs. The extensions, throughout the day, were covered with grease.”
Gordon Parks, letter to Roy Stryker, March 1944
I'm a huge fan of Parks' photography. Like almost all of his work, the photos from this shoot are quite incredible, both as historical documentary records and as artworks. Somehow he managed to achieve both.
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In the 7 minute video below I discuss what I see in this 1944 photo from the Penola Grease Factory by Gordon Parks:
If you want to know more about Gordon Parks, here's a fascinating documentary about his life and work from 1997 - about 10 years before he died.
The Gordon Parks Foundation is a treasure trove of his photos. It's one of my instagram treats to see one of his photos pop up when they post @gordonparksfoundation
What do you think about this photo? Let me know in the comments!