VMFA exhibition opens July 23

Published 5:22 am Thursday, June 23, 2016

An exhibition featuring works by the noted African-American photographer Gordon Parks will be on view from July 23-Oct. 30 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The 42 photographs that comprise Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott” examine the realities of life under segregation in 1950s America, according to a news release.

As the first African-American photographer hired full time by Life magazine, Parks was frequently given assignments involving social issues affecting black America. For an assignment on the impact of school segregation, Parks returned to his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas, to reconnect with childhood friends — all of whom went to the same all-black elementary school — though only one was still living in Fort Scott at the time. To hear their stories, Parks traveled to Kansas City, Saint Louis, Columbus, Detroit and Chicago, and his narrative shifted its focus to the Great Migration north by African Americans.

The resulting series of photographs were intended to accompany an article he planned to call “Back to Fort Scott,” but his story was never published.

“Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott” opens in the Evans Court Galleries at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on July 23. VMFA will also offer a series of related programs throughout the run of the exhibition that explore topics such as the history of documentary photography, and discuss race and representation as revealed in Parks’ work. The line-up culminates with “The Learning Tree,” a film written and directed by Parks that explores his childhood and was filmed in Fort Scott. The first major Hollywood feature written and directed by an African American, “The Learning Tree” was also among the first 25 films to be preserved by the U.S. Library of Congress in the National Film Registry.