Iconic Gordon Parks photos show shades of gray in American race relations

(Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation/ Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation ) - Gordon Parks. Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama, 1956, on view at Adamson Gallery.

(Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation/ Copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation ) - Gordon Parks. Untitled, Shady Grove, Alabama, 1956, on view at Adamson Gallery.

At first glance, it seems a memory of an innocent time: A father stands at the window of an ice cream stand, buying treats for his young children. But the family is African American, and the sign above them says “colored.” Gordon Parks made this color photograph in 1956 in Alabama, when separate-and-unequal strictures shadowed nearly every aspect of American life.

Parks is best known for his black-and-white work, much of it for Life magazine and well represented in Adamson Gallery’s “Gordon Parks: An American Lens.” The show includes high-contrast shots of Harlem in the late 1940s, as well as dramatic 1960s candids of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Duke Ellington. Also present is the photographer’s take on “American Gothic” — a starkly posed 1942 portrait of office custodian Ella Watson, made when Parks worked at the Farm Security Administration in Washington. That photo is a rare overlap between this selection and the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Parks exhibition in 2011.

(Courtesy Dulce Pinzon and Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain / Courtesy Dulce Pinzon and Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain ) - An untitled photo by Dulce Pinzon on view at the Latino/US Cotidiano exhibit at the Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain .
  • (Courtesy Dulce Pinzon and Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain / Courtesy Dulce Pinzon and Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain ) - An untitled photo by Dulce Pinzon on view at the Latino/US Cotidiano exhibit at the Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain .
  • (Courtesy Sol Aramendi and Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain / Courtesy Sol Aramendi and Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain ) - Untitled photograph by Sol Aramendi on view at the Latino/US Cotidiano at the Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain .

(Courtesy Dulce Pinzon and Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain / Courtesy Dulce Pinzon and Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain ) - An untitled photo by Dulce Pinzon on view at the Latino/US Cotidiano exhibit at the Former Residence of the Ambassadors of Spain .

Parks, who died in 2006, made his reputation as a photojournalist before expanding into film, literature and musical composition. In the fall, the centennial of his birth was marked with the five-volume “Gordon Parks: Collected Works.” It unveiled many previously unpublished pictures from the “Segregation Series,” the source of that picture of the ice cream stand.

Twenty of the photos were published in Life, but more than 70 had gone unseen. The series includes other sorts of American gothics: a formal portrait of a dignified older couple, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, and “Outside Looking In,” in which black girls gaze at whites on a forbidden playground. The oppressive word “colored” appears frequently.

Contrasting the Alabama pictures are some that Parks made seven years later, in his native Kansas. They show only nature and children, without rules or signs of any sort. “Boy with a June Bug” is rustic and relaxed, even utopian. Parks certainly didn’t believe that African Americans could escape permanently into summer vacation; his other work is full of images of them in conflict with society. But these photos, in their way, show as much yearning for freedom as Parks’s fiercer images.

Gordon Parks:

An American Lens

on view through May 31 at Adamson Gallery, 1515 14th St. NW. 202-232-0707; www.adamsongallery.com.

Portraits of Latino life

There are no black-and-white or historical shots in “Latino/U.S. Cotidiano,” an exhibition of large-format photographs that are bright, bold and immediate. “Cotidiano” means “everyday life,” and this project means to document just that for Latinos in North America. “Everyday” includes some uncommon scenes, however, in this show at the recently restored former residence of the ambassador of Spain.

The 12 photographers roamed from New York to Mexico City, making both candid and staged pictures. Interestingly, superheroes appear in both. Mexico’s Dulce Pinzon dresses immigrant workers in costumes so that one guy cleans fish in an Aquaman getup. But Spain’s Ricardo Cases just happened upon a cocky young dude in a Superman outfit in Miami, while in L.A., Peru-born Hector Mata found a young brother and sister in matching man-of-steel togs. American Stefan Ruiz documents a different sort of extraordinary creature: the upscale fantasy figures of Mexican telenovelas, photographed in character on their shows’ sets.

Just as Latino culture is a blend of many, so this exhibition jumbles styles and outlooks. The work can be didactic or unforced, personal or detached. In New York, the photographer known as Caléportrayed Latinos as blurred figures before crisp backgrounds, suggesting the people are not fully there. Argentine American Katrina Marcelle d’Autremont revisits her extended family in Buenos Aires, while Karen Miranda re-creates the childhood experience of moving to New York from Ecuador. Susana Raab, Lima-born but a longtime Washingtonian, went to Houston to portray Mexican-born revelers who pose — but not for her — at a rodeo. They might not be entirely at home, but they’re not about to evaporate into an arty blur.

Latino/U.S. Cotidiano

on view through May 12 at the former residence of the Ambassador of Spain, 2801 16th St. NW. www.spainculture.us.

Various local artists

Seven area artists from various backgrounds mix it up in “Mixtopias,” at Visarts at Rockville’s Kaplan Gallery. Three of them recall traditional Asian landscapes: Hayoon Jay Lee’s black-and-white drawings entwine tree and human limbs, Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann’s highly vertical abstractions suggest Chinese ink paintings, and Jennifer Tam’s paintings simplify moon and clouds into striking compositions, heavy on gold and silver leaf.

Two others assemble their art in the manner of patchwork: Hoesy Corona constructs baroque dresses from found materials, while Mequitta Ahuja’s paintings emulate quilts. Carolina Mayorga photographs herself with a plastic baby doll in poses that recall Renaissance paintings of Madonna and child.

Many of the show’s diverse impulses come together in Joyce Yu-Jean Lee’s three pieces, which combine painting and video. She inserts herself into a Chinese landscape and projects painted fish onto a 3-D pond. In the two-part “Sleep of Reason: Writing on the Wall,” Lee poses like the man in Goya’s famed etching “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”; she slips into slumber as a poem swirls onto the screen. In one version, she wears traditional clothing, and the text is in Chinese calligraphy; in the other, she’s in Western attire, and the words have been translated into English. It’s an eloquent portrait of someone who lives in one culture but dreams of another.

Mixtopias

on view through May 12 at Kaplan Gallery, Visarts at Rockville, 155 Gibbs St., Rockville. 301-315-8200; www.visartscenter.org.

Kathryn Cornelius

In August, Kathryn Cornelius got married — seven times. Not exactly an incurable romantic, the performance artist planned both the unions and the breaches in advance, and staged all seven in a single day at the Corcoran. A video digest of these “artful” (that is, not legal) nuptials is part of Cornelius’s “Let’s Not Ever Be Strangers Again,” at the Curator’s Office.

The array includes the artist’s sweat-stained wedding dress, turned inside-out and hung from the ceiling, with an intimate soundtrack within. There’s also a video in which Cornelius dances wildly and, appropriately, by herself. The centerpiece is a piece that documents the string of marriages. Wisely, the artist doesn’t present the events in real time. Condensed to 15 minutes, the video montages Cornelius’s grooms and brides — some of the marriages were same-sex — to a pop soundtrack whose lyrics progress from “going to the chapel” to “you know our love was meant to be” to “I was born to walk alone.” The weddings, like many actual ones, are both great drama and high comedy.

Let’s Not Ever Be Strangers Again

on view through May 11 at the Curator’s Office, 1515 14th St. NW. 202-387-1008; www.curatorsoffice.com.

Jenkins is a freelance writer.

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