Newcastle, UK

Gordon Parks: A Choice of Weapons

21 Oct - 17 Dec 2017

Past exhibition
Curated by Mark Sealy

A solo exhibition of Gordon Parks' documentary photography addressing critical questions of civil responsibility, human rights and modes of representation



Side Gallery
5-9 Side, Newcastle upon Tyne

past exhibition

We're sharing more exhibitions from Autograph's 35-year history. To view more exhibitions, click here.


The works selected for this exhibition highlighted the struggle African Americans endured whilst fighting for equality in America, a struggle that concerned Parks throughout his long and astonishing photographic career.

Gordon Parks: A Choice of Weapons shares its title with Parks' 1966 autobiography and this exhibition aimed to draw out critical questions concerning civil responsibility, human rights and modes of representation. Critically, this exhibition highlighted how Parks' photography informed the sense of responsibility he felt and the way he used his position to provide both agency and voice for his people. His immersive photographic narratives opened up dialogue across the difficult cultural, social and political divides that existed in America.

"He chose to use the position he achieved to represent his community in the struggle for social change”

— Mark Sealy

In late 1967 and as a direct response to the wave of riots that broke out across America, Parks began documenting the Fontenelles, an African American family living in Harlem and trapped in extreme conditions of poverty. This extended documentary project became a remarkable 16-page photo feature for Life magazine in March 1968. It was a ground breaking essay which provides a keystone through which to read Park’s photography throughout the exhibition. An outstanding body of work, it illustrates the way he saw and portrayed the family and others: not as objects of journalistic scrutiny but as unique individuals participating in the telling of their own story. The heartache, emotional and moral dilemmas that he faced in trying to tell story of the Fontenelle family would never leave him. He stayed in contact with the family and would later recall that, "the truth of their suffering lay ahead, and it would be terrifying and sorrowful."

share your thoughts

Have a few moments to take a quick survey? Your feedback is invaluable

Take survey


Installation at Side Gallery

Department Store, Mobile, Alabama, 1956

Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington, D.C., 1963

Installation at Side Gallery

Ondria Tanner and her Grandmother Window-shopping, Mobile, Alabama, 1956

about the artist

Gordon Parks (1912 - 2006)

Gordon Parks' photographic career began in earnest in the early 1940s with the legendary Farm Security Administration photography unit. In the struggle for social justice his camera became what he referred to as his weapon of choice against racism and social inequalities.

In 1956, as the only African American photographer on the staff of the hugely influential Life magazine, he documented the impact of racial segregation in the American South. In the 1960’s he explored the turbulence of the different political strategies of those involved in the struggle for social freedom: from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s participation in the March on Washington to the self-declared revolutionary approach of the Black Panthers. Parks' focus on the question of social change was unequivocal.

Read More



UK exhibition

The first exploration in the UK of key works by the artist since Autograph's 1995 touring exhibition Gordon Parks: Black Americans


More than 4,000 people saw the exhibition

brought together

The first time film and photographs from A Harlem Family were shown together in the UK as a series


A Choice of Weapons was featured in The Guardian, The British Journal of Photography and more

freedom city 2017

The exhibition was part of Freedom City 2017, marking the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s receiving of an honorary degree from Newcastle University


Speaking To the Futures was an afternoon of presentations and discussions around working with photography archives

in partnership with

Gordon Parks: A Choice of Weapons was produced in a partnership between Side Gallery, Autograph and The Gordon Parks Foundation

Banner image: Gordon Parks, Ella Watson with her Grandchildren, Washington DC, 1942. © and courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Exhibition preview: All images © and courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation. 1+5) A Choice of Weapons installation at Side Gallery. Photo by Peter Scott. 2) Gordon Parks, Department Store, Mobile, Alabama, 1956. 3) Gordon Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington DC, 1963. 4) Gordon Parks, Ondria Tanner and her Grandmother Window-shopping, Mobile, Alabama, 1956.

About the artist: Gordon Parks at the Civil Rights March on Washington, 1963.