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