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Which of these contributed to the perception of post-war urban decay in New York?
Riots that took place in Harlem in 1935 and 1943
The end of World War II in 1945
The Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s
The 1946 opening of the Lafargue Clinic in Harlem
Gordon Parks’s reputation for photographing the humanity of his subjects first developed through
his work with the Farm Security Administration.
his work as a fashion photographer.
his work as a staff photographer for LIFE magazine.
his work as a documentary and film director.
Which best explains Parks’s and Ellison’s interest in publishing photographic essays?
The format combined words and images to convey ideas.
The format allowed the friends to collaborate on projects of shared interest.
The format gained popularity among Civil Rights activists in the 1960s.
The format was required for publication in the mainstream media of the day.
What did Ellison likely have in mind when he instructed Parks that his photographs for "Harlem is Nowhere" should serve as both document and symbol?
He wanted the photographs to both record life in Harlem and underscore the larger points he wanted to make.
He wanted the photographs to draw on both first-hand accounts of Harlem residents and the history of Harlem since the Great Migration.
He wanted the photographs to be both documentary and autobiographical.
He wanted to illustrate his stories and essays with “authentic” photographs.
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The mass media’s portrayal of urban spaces like Harlem in the years after World War II often reinforced negative stereotypes of African Americans. Photographer Gordon Parks and writer Ralph Ellison wanted to offer corrective views of African American life in the popular press. This led them to collaborate on the 1948 essay “Harlem is Nowhere.”
The text of the essay focused on the Lafargue Clinic, the first non-segregated psychiatric clinic in New York. Ellison argued that segregation and racism were having negative psychological effects on African Americans, and that problems present in Harlem represented larger systemic issues across America. These are issues he would tackle in his famous book, Invisible Man.
The photographs by Parks were not meant to illustrate the essay. They present their own visual argument about the tensions around race in both Harlem and the United States more broadly by portraying the psychological and societal difficulties that were a daily part of the African American experience.
Re-read the caption that Ellison wrote for this photograph:
“Who am I? Where am I? How do I come to be? Behind endless walls of his ghetto, man searches for social identity. Refugees from southern feudalism, many Negroes wander dazed in the mazes of northern ghettos, the displaced persons of American democracy.”
Which details of Parks’s image seem specifically addressed by Ellison’s caption? How do you think Ellison’s choice of words affects the way we interpret the photograph?
Cite this page as: Michal Raz-Russo, Art Institute of Chicago and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Harlem 1948, Ralph Ellison, Gordon Parks and the photo essay," in Smarthistory, May 16, 2018, accessed January 16, 2019, https://smarthistory.org/parks-ellison-2/.