Watch This: Gordon Parks’ DIARY OF A HARLEM FAMILY
Gordon Parks (born on November 30, 1912) was renowned in many fields. He wrote books and directed films large and small, from deeply personal documentaries to the massive action hit SHAFT. But perhaps his most abiding work is his photojournalism.
One landmark photo essay of his was “A Harlem Family,” commissioned by LIFE magazine in 1967 as civil unrest exploded in America’s inner cities. Parks’ aim was to document the cycle of poverty and dehumanization as it affected a single Harlem family. For a month, he lived with the Fontanelle family and documented their daily struggles. It is a highly moving and important work, and one that provides profound insight into the realities of life for so many Black Americans.
The following film presents the photo-essay, framed by a filmed segment featuring Parks and the Fontanelle family and is narrated by Parks. It is a film of real power and, although the events it depicts are more than fifty years in the past, it cuts just as deep today. Parks’ words are just as important as his photographs. Here he describes the teenage son of the family.
“Norman is a strange mixture. In his talk, there is a defiance for whites – the white policeman, the white butcher, the white clerk in the appliance store. His eyes have the hard glint of the older black men in Harlem. At 13, he is already primed for some kind of action. He is aggressive, determined and powerfully built for his age. But his hostility is balanced by an overwhelming tenderness at times. Today, for instance, he lifted his baby brother Richard and smothered him with rough kisses.”
Watch the film here, and reflect on what it has to tell all of us today.