Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem
By the mid-1940s, Gordon Parks was a successful photographer and Ralph Ellison began work on his acclaimed novel "Invisible Man" (1952). It is relatively unknown, however, that the two men were friends and that their common vision of racial injustice inspired collaboration on two important projects, in 1948 and 1952.
Parks and Ellison first joined forces on an essay titled Harlem Is Nowhere for 48: "The Magazine of the Year". Conceived while Ellison was already writing "Invisible Man", this illustrated essay was centered on Harlems Lafargue Mental Hygiene Clinicthe first non-segregated psychiatric clinic in New York Cityas a case study for the social and economic conditions of the neighborhood. He chose Parks to create the accompanying photographs and during the winter months of 1948, the two roamed the streets of Harlem. In 1952 they worked together again on A Man Becomes Invisible for the August 25 issue of Life magazine, which promoted Ellisons newly released novel.
This is the first publication on Parks and Ellisons collaboration on these two projects, one of which was lost while the other was published only in reduced form. The catalogue provides an in-depth look at the artists shared vision of black life in America, with Harlem as its nerve center.
Gordon Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912. An itinerant laborer, he worked as a brothel pianist and railcar porter, among other jobs, before buying a camera at a pawnshop, training himself, and becoming a photographer. In addition
to his storied tenures photographing for the Farm Security Administration (19411945) and Life magazine (19481972), Parks evolved into a modern-day Renaissance man, finding success as a film director, writer and composer. He wrote numerous memoirs, novels and books of poetry, and received many awards, including the National Medal of Arts and more than fifty honorary degrees. Parks died in 2006.
Ralph Ellison was born in Oklahoma City in 1913. He enrolled at Booker T. Washingtons Tuskegee Institute in Macon County, Alabama, as a music major and later turned to writing essays and short stories. By 1945 he signed a contract to begin writing what was to become "Invisible Man" (1952), which won the National Book Award in 1953 but remained the only novel published during his lifetime. Ellison published two subsequent collections of essays: "Shadow and Act" (1964) and "Going to the Territory"(1986). Ellison died in 1994.