Store Front, Mobile Alabama, 1956, Gordon Parks Photography

Gordon Parks implemented camera angles, body language and contrast in the photograph StoreFront to inform American audiences of the lifestyle of the black population under segregation in Alabama in 1956. In his collection, he maintains a balance between showcasing their hardships and their retaliation toward such treatment through daily but powerful actions.

The camera focuses on a small store – it is a low wide shot. The ‘direction’ of the image is based on the angles or lines within it. The road path and the house’s mantle are horizontal, which is associated with creating a sense of calm. The vertical lines upholstering the house indicate a sense of structure. The scale of this photograph serves to show a rounded view of the scene – where all sides can be examined. The viewer looks into this family with interest; the angle sets the viewer up as someone who is entering the store. Due to the segregation occurring, the black population are very likely to feel disadvantaged and unimportant. However, the framing of a family sitting proudly outside a store that they cannot sit and eat inside but only pick something up from shows strength and armor in these individuals. The horizontal lines, therefore, show the calm and strength in them. And the vertical lines could be the Jim Crow segregation laws’ structure that they are forced to endure. Further, it is much like how they have to sit outside and are forced a roof but not inside.

Body language accentuates this drive further. The boys on the left are looking toward the storefront – which directs the viewer’s eyes, thus expressing emotion and intent that they are longing to be rid of these racist regulations and find a way into the comfort of the house – and to be treated equally. The group on the right are jolly, sitting up straight and animatedly talking with their loved ones. Indicating that the adults in the communities are giving each other importance, are showing them that they deserve kindness and equality, to hold their heads high and treat themselves as first-class and American citizens even when others are not. In other photographs of this collection, many rich folks are wearing fancy clothing, talking happily because this segregation wouldn’t stop them from dressing up in their Sunday best and keeping their confidence to take on this racism.

Contrast and color supremely highlight the injustices that these people face. The contrast of outside on the dirt road and inside with air conditioner and proper stools makes the audience understand the complexity and salience of the family sitting outside. Parks is known for black and white images. If this collection had been in black and white, then people could write the racism off – “it is in the past.” The use of color brings these themes back to the present as seen in the racism in gun violence, police brutality today.

Gordon Parks leaves a lasting impression in his viewers even today through his masterful photographs that illustrate how African Americans have fought for their rights – not in overt circumstances like in protests but in daily occurrences which are equally as powerful.

2 thoughts on “Store Front, Mobile Alabama, 1956, Gordon Parks Photography

  1. I am not sure that the people sitting in front of the store are doing so because they are not allowed inside. This might be a store located in a black neighborhood, and these people might simply be socializing together outside of it…

    1. When I was reading for context on the larger collection of the photos in the album, the anecdote attached stated that some stores allowed people to buy things but did not allow them to sit in. It is this: http://www.gordonparksfoundation.org/publications/segregation-story?view=slider#8 (in the excerpt portion). The photograph at the time seemed like it was related to that interpretation. But yes, the people could be socializing together outside of it. Regardless of if they were allowed in the store, I think the points about keeping their self-worth and celebrating themselves as people even in the face of discrimination still apply.

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