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Gordon Parks, Eldridge Cleaver and His Wife, Kathleen, Algiers, Algeria, 1970, archival pigment print, 30" × 24" (76.2 cm × 61 cm) paper, signed, numbered, and dated by the Executive Director of The Gordon Parks Foundation on label affixed verso, Edition 2 of 7 © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Photography in Focus

Gordon Parks

Eldridge Cleaver and His Wife, Kathleen, Algiers, Algeria, 1970

Jul 1, 2020

Gordon Parks, one of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century, was a humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice.

He left behind an exceptional body of work that documents American life and culture from the early 1940s into the 2000s, with a focus on race relations, poverty, civil rights, and urban life. Parks was also a distinguished composer, author, and filmmaker who interacted with many of the leading people of his era—from politicians and artists to athletes and other celebrities.

Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912, Parks was drawn to photography as a young man when he saw images of migrant workers in a magazine. After buying a camera at a pawnshop, he taught himself how to use it. Despite his lack of professional training, he won the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in 1942; this led to a position with the photography section of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington, D.C., and, later, the Office of War Information (OWI). Working for these agencies, which were then chronicling the nation’s social conditions, Parks quickly developed a personal style that would make him among the most celebrated photographers of his era. His extraordinary pictures allowed him to break the color line in professional photography while he created remarkably expressive images that consistently explored the social and economic impact of poverty, racism, and other forms of discrimination. As Parks told an interviewer in 1999, he used his camera as a weapon “against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs.”

In 1970, he travelled to Algeria specifically to photograph Eldridge Cleaver and his wife, Kathleen, after the Black Panther leaders had been exiled due to a parole violation and confrontation with the police. In the photograph, the couple proudly sits in front of an image of Huey Newton, the imprisoned co-founder of the Black Panther Party.

In his photographic memoir Half Past Autumn (1997), Parks wrote that Cleaver had invited him to serve as the Black Panther’s public relations officer: “we need you more than the establishment does.”  Parks declined, but later, on reflection, he stated, “I find myself displeased with my reply…Both of us were caught up in the truth of the Black man’s ordeal. I recognized his scars and acknowledged my own.”

To learn more about Gordon Parks, please visit The Gordon Parks Foundation's website. Established in 2006, The Gordon Parks Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks, makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media, and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Gordon described as "the common search for a better life and a better world." Learn how to support the foundation here.

75411 (1).jpeg

Gordon Parks, Eldridge Cleaver and His Wife, Kathleen, Algiers, Algeria, 1970, archival pigment print, 30" × 24" (76.2 cm × 61 cm) paper, signed, numbered, and dated by the Executive Director of The Gordon Parks Foundation on label affixed verso, Edition 2 of 7 © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Essays — Photography in Focus: Gordon Parks, Jul 1, 2020