By the mid-1940s, Gordon Parks was a successful photographer and Ralph Ellison began work on his acclaimed novel Invisible Man (1952). It is relatively unknown, however, that the two men were friends and that their common vision of racial injustice inspired collaboration on two important projects, in 1948 and 1952.
Parks and Ellison first joined forces on an essay titled “Harlem Is Nowhere” for ’48: The Magazine of the Year. Conceived while Ellison was already writing Invisible Man, this illustrated essay was centered on Harlem’s Lafargue Mental Hygiene Clinic—the first non-segregated psychiatric clinic in New York City—as a case study for the social and economic conditions of the neighborhood. He chose Parks to create the accompanying photographs and during the winter months of 1948, the two roamed the streets of Harlem. In 1952 they worked together again on “A Man Becomes Invisible” for the August 25 issue of Life magazine, which promoted Ellison’s newly released novel.
This is the first publication on Parks’ and Ellison’s collaboration on these two projects, one of which was lost while the other was published only in reduced form. The catalogue provides an in-depth look at the artists’ shared vision of black life in America, with Harlem as its nerve center.