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John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art 2019, Artists and American Communities, Then: Part 5, Gordon Parks, the FSA, the OWI, and the Double V

Laura Wexler, professor of American studies, women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and film and media studies, affiliate faculty in ethnicity, race, and migration, cochair, Women’s Faculty Forum, director, The Photographic Memory Workshop, and primary investigator, The Photogrammar Project, Yale University. In 1942, Gordon Parks began working for Roy Stryker, head of the photographic division of Farm Security Administration, or FSA, during which time Parks traveled to Washington, DC, on assignment, documenting life under segregation in the nation’s capital. The next year, the FSA was absorbed into the Office of War Information, which sent Parks to photograph the Tuskegee Airmen. This assignment signaled for Parks a shift from making projects about internal national politics to documenting the war effort, and it had a profound effect on him. In her talk from the John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art, “American Communities, Then and Now,” held on February 8, 2019, Laura Wexler describes Parks’s experience of segregation in the District and his transition from making. Here Wexler considers whether and how this transition experience might have influenced Parks’s later commitment to photography.