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Study Sets of Photographs

Call Number: JWJ MSS 363

Scope and Contents

Collection of eleven "study sets" that represent selections from series created by Parks, chiefly 1942-1976. Photographic prints in the sets include images reproduced by the Gordon Parks Foundation, 2012-2021, as well as examples of prints created by Parks during his professional life, 1942-2006.

The study sets from the 1940s include Washington D.C., a series created for the United States Farm Security Administration that documents the life of Ella Watson, an African American custodial worker for the federal government in 1942; Mamie and Kenneth Clark, created for Ebony magazine on the married psychologist team of Mamie Phipps Clark and Kenneth Bancroft Clark in 1947, whose research on the effects of segregation on Black children influenced the decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954); and Harlem Gang Leader, Park's first project for Life magazine in 1948, which documented Leonard "Red" Jackson, a young black man and leader of the Midtowners gang.

The study sets from the 1950s include Back to Fort Scott, an ultimately unpublished series for Life where Parks revisited his childhood hometown and documented the lives of his junior high school classmates; Invisible Man, a series for Life in 1952 based on the novel of the same name published that year by Ralph Ellison where Parks sought to visually draw passages from the novel by creating images of a friend on the streets of Harlem; Segregation in the South, a series for Life in 1956 that chiefly documented the lives of an African American sharecropping family in Alabama as well as "separate but equal” facilities in public transportation between Brimingham, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee; and Crime, a series that supported a recurring set of articles in Life magazine in 1957 on crime in the United States.

The study sets from the 1960s include Civil Rights, photographs for Life in 1966 that document the growing Civil Rights Movement as well as the Black Muslim movement and the leadership of the Nation of Islam, including Malcolm X; and Harlem, a series for Life in 1967 that focused on the Fontenelle family, a West Indian immigrant family struggling with poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence.

Study sets that straddle the 1960s and 1970s include The Flávio Story, a series on poverty in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1961 and 1976, which documents Brazilian boy Flávio da Silva and his family for Life, and Gordon Parks X Muhammad Ali, a series of portraits of the heavyweight boxer for Life, 1966 and 1970.

Prints in the collection made by Parks during his lifetime were bequeathed to The Gordon Parks Foundation. Prints reproduced and distributed by the Gordon Parks Foundation include gelatin silver prints by Griffin Editions and inkjet prints by Adamson Editions.


  • 1942-2021


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from the Gordon Parks Foundation on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund and the Frederick W. and Carrie S. Beinecke Fund for Western Americana, 2021.


Organized into 11 series: I. Study Set 1. Washington D.C., 1942. II. Study Set 2. Back to Fort Scott, 1950. III. Study Set 3. Invisible Man, 1952. IV. Study Set 4. Crime, 1957. V. Study Set 5. Segregation in the South, 1956. VI. Study Set 6. Mamie and Kenneth Clark, 1947. VII. Study Set 7, Harlem, 1967. VIII. Study Set 8, Civil Rights, 1963. IX. Study Set 9, The Flávio Story, 1961, 1976. X. Study Set 10, Gordon Parks X Muhammad Ali, 1966, 1970. XI. Study Set 11, Harlem Gang Leader, 1948.


24.3 Linear Feet (13 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Collection of eleven "study sets" that represent selections from series created by Parks, chiefly 1942-1976. Photographic prints in the sets include images reproduced by the Gordon Parks Foundation, 2012-2021, as well as examples of prints created by Parks during his professional life, 1942-2006.

Gordon Parks (1912-2006)

Gordon Parks was an African American photographer, musician, writer, and film director. He rose to prominence in documentary photojournalism during the 1940s through 1970s, especially surrounding issues of civil rights, poverty and African Americans as well as fashion photography.

Gordon Parks Foundation

The Gordon Parks Foundation based in Pleasantville, New York, permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks, makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Parks described as "the common search for a better life and a better world."

Processing Information

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, competing priorities, and whether or not further accruals are expected. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit. These materials have been arranged and described according to national and local standards. For more information, please refer to the Beinecke Manuscript Unit Processing Manual.

Each folder in the collection contains a single photographic print. Discrete study sets in the collection may be housed in multiple boxes that may not have sequential numbers.

The Gordon Parks Foundation was the immediate source for prints in this collection. The organization authenticates prints created by Parks during his life and creates limited edition reproductions as black-and-white gelatin silver prints and color inkjet prints from his negatives as well as assigning an number for each image (usually expressed as ##.###) and an unique "GP" number for each discrete print.

Guide to the Gordon Parks, Study Sets of Photographs
by Matthew Daniel Mason
February 2022
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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