Pas si invisible que ca: Ellison & Parks, Harlem Reunion in Chicago

chicagotruntablessm

Gordon Parks. Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1952. The Art Institute of Chicago, anonymous gift. Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago.

What’s tragic about the ongoing shootings of African-Americans by some police and others — besides the deaths in and of themselves, and the recalcitrance of  congressmen bought off by the National Rifle Association to take firearms off the streets — is the ongoing separation from American society that this scourge signifies. Because lost in the lingering racism that still plagues the United States is that Black Lives not only “matter” but are integral to the American experience as a whole.

When I think about historical New York, more than any other neighborhood except perhaps the Village, I think of Harlem, and I think of Harlem in black and white. And I think of Gordon Parks — certainly a Black voice but an American voice tout court. And I also think of Ralph Ellison, whose 1952 novel “Invisible Man” helped uninvisibilize the Black Man in America.

What’s less known about this signature pair of American voices of the 20th century is that in 1948 and 1952, photographer-filmmaker-anthropologist Parks and novelist Ellison collaborated on two journalism projects. “Harlem is Nowhere,” published in ’48: The Magazine of the Year, focused on the uptown neighborhood’s Lafargue Mental Hygiene Clinic, as a prism for highlighting the social and economic effects of racism and segregation. “A Man Becomes Invisible,” published in 1952 by Life magazine, at that time the signature pictorial chronicle of America (and the world), featured Parks’s illustrations of scenes from Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” The first essay as lost, while only part of the second ultimately was published.

Now a new exhibition running at the Art Institute of Chicago through August 28 re-unites the surviving texts and images from the two projects, including never-before-seen photographs by Parks from the museum’s collection and the Gordon Parks Foundation, and unpublished manuscripts by Ellison. Together, they not only represent African-American life at its nerve center, but as a luminous part of the American spectrum of the epoch. — Paul Ben-Itzak

chicagostreetsm

Gordon Parks. Harlem Neighborhood, Harlem, New York, 1952. The Gordon Parks Foundation. Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago.

chicagorunningman

Gordon Parks. Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1952. The Gordon Parks Foundation. Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago.

chicagolonelysm

Gordon Parks. Off On My Own, Harlem, New York, 1948. The Gordon Parks Foundation. Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago.

chicagoellisonnotessm

Ralph Ellison. Notes for “Invisible Man,” 1947. The Gordon Parks Foundation. Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago.

Chicagosoapsm

Gordon Parks. Soapbox Operator, Harlem, New York, 1952. The Gordon Parks Foundation. Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago.

chicagoproofssm

Gordon Parks. Contact Sheet, “A Man Becomes Invisible,” Life story no. 36997, 1952. The Gordon Parks Foundation. Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s