Washington, D.C. Government charwoman

by Gordon Parks

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Artist Statement

"Washington, D.C. Government charwoman", also known as "American Gothic", is widely considered to be Parks's most iconic image. On his first day working for the Farm Security Administration, Parks was instructed by FSA leader Roy Stryker to go out and about in Washington, D.C. to learn the city. Parks encountered so much bigotry and discrimination that Stryker told him to find and talk with some older black people who had lived their entire lives in Washington to see how they had coped. Parks took him up on this advice and met Ella Watson, a black woman who did janitorial work in the FSA building. Though Parks later chronicled many facets of Ms. Watson's life, this first, simple portrait went on to become the symbol of the pre-civil rights' era treatment of minorities. 

Why We Love It

"Gordon Parks' first great photograph is also his most misunderstood. He made Washington, D.C. Government charwoman, his iconic portrait of Ella Watson, shortly after his arrival in Washington, D.C. in the winter of 1942 to join the staff of the Farm Security Administration's [FSA] photographic unit. Parks himself once called the portrait "an indictment of America," and that's the way generations of viewers have seen this image of an African American "government charwoman" posed in front of the American flag. When Parks showed it to Roy Stryker, his new boss at the FSA, Stryker suppressed the image, believing that white Americans—especially the congressmen who funded his agency—would be outraged. The portrait became famous only in the 1960s, when many people were ready to accept its bitter commentary on American racism." ... Read more from John Edwin Mason on the blog!

Details

Read John Edwin Mason's introduction to this edition, "Introducing Gordon Parks with John Edwin Mason".

Edition Details:
+ Museum quality: archival inks, 100% cotton rag paper unless noted
+ Signed + numbered certificate of authenticity included
+ Handcrafted custom-framing is available

Our quoted dimensions are for the size of paper containing the images, not the printed image itself. We do not alter the aspect ratio, nor do we crop or resize the artists’ originals. All of our prints have a minimum border of .5 inches to allow for framing.

Medium:

Innova Fibraprint Warm Cotton Gloss

Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks was a photographer, musician, writer, and film director. His best-known work was in documentary photojournalism, consisting of images he made in the U.S. from the 1940s to the 1970s, focusing on issues of civil rights, poverty, and the lives of African-Americans. His work as a photographer and filmmaker was barrier-breaking: he was the first African-American photographer at LIFE and Vogue, and one of the first African-Americans to produce and direct major motion pictures such as Shaft.  Parks was born in 1912 into a poor and segregated life in Kansas. Drawn to photography after seeing images of migrant workers in a magazine, he picked up... Read More
a camera from a pawnshop and taught himself to use it. Despite a lack of formal training, he was hired by the Farm Security Administration. It was there Parks developed his style, creating powerful images that explored the socioeconomic impact of racism. After the FSA closed, Parks worked as a freelance photographer, shooting for both fashion magazines and photographing humanitarian issues. He was hired at LIFE Magazine, where he would remain for twenty years and for whom he would create a wide range of iconic images. Many of these photographs became symbols of activism, rallying support for the growing Civil Rights Movement, which Parks believed in deeply and documented often. Over the course of his career, Parks won numerous awards, gained over fifty honorary doctorates, directed several films, and wrote a best-selling novel. He continued photographing until his death in 2006.
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