Professor Michals

HW 1: Gordon Parks

American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942, Gordon Parks

The picture I was given was a picture from American Gothic by Grant Wood in 1942. The subject matter of the picture is an individual in a polka-dot dress holding up a broom and a mop in front of the American Flag. The subject isn’t smiling and looks very tense. It’s also in black and white. The composition is centered, with the individual being slightly off center. The flag is also a little off center, and reversed, with the stars being on the right of the flag instead of on the left. There is a sense of the rule of thirds, where the broom and the mop is the first box, the individual is the second box, and the flag is the third box. With the flag being slightly blurred in the background, it also gives a sense of depth with the use of shallow depth of field.

The photo looks like it had been taken inside of a large room, at least large enough to hand the flag so high. In 1942, the Second World War and racism were the biggest things going on. During this time, racism was still rampant, and woman weren’t allowed to join the war effort, so they had to stay home to cook and clean. The person in the photo is Ella Watson, who was working by herself to support her grandchildren after her husband was shot dead two days prior to one of her daughter being born. This was going on in Washington D.C., and during this time, living conditions for African Americans were subpar, to put it lightly. They lived in trashy neighborhoods with houses that looked like they were falling apart. I believe Watson also allowed for Parks to stay with her in her home while he took pictures of her and the surrounding community. Parks’ intentions for the photo was to show the hardships of African Americans in ties with the government, tying a story of discrimination and prejudice. The photo sort of conveys a sense of hopelessness and sadness that is seen through Parks’ works. This one feels sad because the individual looks defeated, as if she had given up or is just tired of the things going on in her community and around the nation. The hopelessness comes from her smaller stature in regards to the flag behind her. This leaves looking much smaller than the things going on around her.

1 Comment

  1. rmichals

    Nicely stated. You describe the photo well.

    I can see that you looked up Ella Watson. Her story is important to understanding the photo. Another thing that is important is that Parks is quoting a painting that was well-known at the time, “American Gothic.” The original by Grant Wood shows a white farmer and his daughter. Wood ‘s painting casts them as the heart of America. Parks’ version of the painting is his way of saying that black women are the heart of America.

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