Friday, February 23, 2024

‘A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks a moving portrayal of imprint of one man

By Matt Pascarella

Not rated
Runtime: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Author. Filmmaker. Photographer. Gordon Parks was first hired by Life magazine where he told the story of Harlem gang leaders through photography. Parks said he himself might have picked up a gun or a knife if he hadn’t found the camera first. While he also wrote books and directed films, maybe most notably “Shaft,” photography was Parks’ major form of expression. This documentary has interviews with past individuals who worked with Parks and present individuals, of a younger generation, who are inspired by him and chose the camera as their weapon as well.

Max’s “A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks” stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Devin Allen, Maurice Berger, Jelani Cobb, Latoya Ruby Frazier, Nelson George, Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, and Anderson Cooper, along with archival footage of Parks and others.

The documentary opens with photographer Devin Allen talking about wanting to pursue art and how his pursual of art started as a personal journey, but the deeper he got the more powerful he realized an image can be.

In Baltimore in April 2015, there were riots and protests over the arrest and death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Allen was in Baltimore and snapped a shot of the rioters which later found its way to the cover of Time magazine. Allen credits Parks for his interest in photography.

Parks used photography as a way to express his feelings about racism. He was from a dangerous part of Kansas and had seen several of his friends die from gun violence.

He became an observer and understood what was going on around him. He started his photojournalism career by selling pictures to the newspaper. He found value, interest and art in ordinary people and shone a light on them during a time when African Americans were being put down.

Parks took a photo of cleaning woman Ella Watson and through his photographs, Parks shows he understands the humanity of his subjects.

Latoya Ruby Frazier photographed reactions to the Flint water crisis in 2016. She photographed a mother and daughter, and her images were representative of the work of Parks.

Parks’ first big break was a piece on gang leaders in Harlem for Life magazine.

“No one is a gangster 24 hours a day, they have a family,” said Parks.

In 1949, Parks was hired as the first African American to the staff of Life magazine. By the 1950s, Parks was an established photographer and tried to use his camera to capture things he experienced as a young, African American in America.

Through his images, he wanted to show that segregation was not benign. His work demanded America take a look at itself.

Parks covered everything from segregation to fashion to photographing Malcom X and Muhammad Ali.

He directed the 1969 film “The Learning Tree” and 1971’s “Shaft,” which was a big success.

Parks wanted to keep moving forward and his photographs remain timeless to this day – sometimes, unfortunately, telling similar stories. His photography continues to inspire.

Before coming across this documentary, I had never heard of Gordon Parks. I knew the old adage of “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but Parks’ work takes that to a whole new level. His photography during turbulent times in American history evokes so much emotion in the experiences African Americans were going through during these times. This is a heavy, but very moving documentary and made me see and think about certain photographs he took in a different way. While this documentary is immense, it’s definitely worth watching. We can take so many photos today and not think anything of it, so seeing Parks capture important imagery during key points in history gave me a greater understanding of the importance of a well-timed photograph.

Two thumbs up.

Now available on Max. <

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