By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences
The legendary photographer and interpreter of the African-American experience, Gordon Parks (above in a 1948 self-portrait), died 14 years ago. But his traces can be felt all over protests in America and elsewhere over racism and its many manifestations, from police brutality to voter suppression to structures in our society that discriminate from cradle to grave.
Historian John Edwin Mason, in this essay for Nat Geo, notes that one of the buildings damaged in the Minnesota protests was Gordon Parks High School. Mason shows us the iconic photo from those protests of Deveonte Joseph (below left), in his cap and gown, struggling for dignity. Joseph's effort would have been applauded by Parks, who also grew up Black in a racially divided St. Paul, Minnesota (below right), and spent decades connecting America to the human beings who many Americans would rather not see.
"Parks would have felt a kinship with Joseph because of all that they had in common, despite the decades that separate their time in St. Paul," Mason writes. Parks and Joseph also shared a desire to change the prevailing visual representation of Black people.
The camera, Parks once said, could "expose the evils of racism, the evils of poverty... by showing the people who had suffered most under it." In 1968, Parks introduced America to a single family in Harlem, the Fontenelles, to show the dignity of people who manage to live with crippling poverty.
The feature (pictured below) focused not on protests but on the faces of the Fontenelles, which showed "anguish, bone-deep weariness, and a grim perseverance," Mason writes.
I encourage you to read Mason's entire essay, and hope you enjoy today's newsletter.
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Today in a minute
Identity in the mirror: At this time of pandemic and police killings, is it possible to portray identity in self-portraits by 17 Black photographers? The answer would be yes, based on this New York Times photo collection and essay. “I’ve been trying to be more gentle with myself, emotionally as well as in my portraits,” says one of the photographers featured, Kennedi Carter, from North Carolina. “As a photographer, I become so focused on searching for beauty in other people, I forget to find it in myself.”
History's accidental recorder: He began photographing China's Cultural Revolution as an excited participant. Li Zhensheng soon saw the dark side of Mao's revolution—and amassed 100,000 images that he hid under his floorboards. Li's collection is one of the most nuanced records of that decade-long reign of terror in which tens of millions of people were persecuted and up to 1.5 million were killed. "I knew I had to use a camera as a tool to document it,” Li once said. He died in New York, the New York Times reported. He was 79.
He showed the world: Rest in peace John Bompengo, who covered Congo’s political turmoil as a freelance photographer and video journalist for the Associated Press over the course of 16 years. He was 52 and died of complications from COVID-19, said Andrew Drake, the AP’s Africa news director. “John could talk his way in and out of places where others couldn’t to get striking images,” Drake said. “He was committed to covering the flow of Congo’s sometime violent politics, always to be found at the heart of the action on the streets taking photos and video, but soon after he would be back in his suit covering the president.” The AP also announced the death, from COVID-19, of acclaimed London-based correspondent Gregory Katz.
Mapping your island: Drone enthusiast Rueben Pillay has spent a year and a half mapping the coastline of Mauritius, his island nation home. It’s kind of a one-person variant on Google Street View “with much better uniform quality,” Pillay tells PetaPixel. Want a glimpse of what he did over the 790-square-mile island with his DJI Phantom 4 Pro camera drone? Check it out. Note to photo buffs everywhere: Monday is National Camera Day.
Your Instagram of the day
Blooming and wilting at the same time: These roses from the Queen of Africa greenhouse at one of Kenya’s largest flower exporters would normally fly to customers all over the world. But with borders and businesses shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic, few people are thinking of flowers. When photographer Nichole Sobecki made these images last year, exports from flowers generated $1 billion in sales—this year workers are being sent home, blossoms sent to the rubbish heap, and Kenya’s economic outlook is wilting.
Read: Where quarantine is a luxury few can afford
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The big takeaway
Ending a strange senior year: Photographer Diana Markosian followed two twins to their “graduation”—actually a parade in Wisconsin for quarantined seniors moving on. Instead of school, Zakiria and Anaste Berry spent their spring watching Netflix, working at Walmart, and chatting remotely with friends, Nat Geo’s Nina Strochlic writes. Below, photographer Elias Williams profiles aspiring Bronx cartoonist Bianca Colon, who will be attending Syracuse University in the fall. Colon, the youngest of four and the senior class president, is the first from her family to graduate from high school. "I mostly think about what it means for my mother," she says.
See: The Class of 2020 says goodbye
In a few words
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The last glimpse
On Tahiti: Photographer Jodi Cobb sweated out a Sunday sermon in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia. With her on that day in 1996 were women dressed in white dresses and hats, notes Sara Manco, our senior photo archivist. “I love the patterns created by the rows of white hats in this photo,” Manco tells us. “The only face towards the camera is that of a sleeping baby, adding an air of tranquility to the image.”
See: Images of French Polynesia