In 1957, LIFE Magazine enlisted Gordon Parks to illustrate a recurring series of articles on crime across the United States. Parks was the first African American to hold the position of staff photographer for the publication. He embarked on a six-week journey to major cities including New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The body of work that he captured for the project resulted in an eight-page photo-essay titled The Atmosphere of Crime.
This past June, The Gordon Parks Foundation teamed up with the Museum of Modern Art to publish a book featuring 60 shots from the series alongside many other captures that have never been made public. The stylized visuals appear as stills from crime noir movies of the past. From a snapshot portraying suit-clad cops kicking down a door to a haunting image of a shadowy figure brandishing a gun, Parks’ images offered an unfiltered look at the tumultuous atmosphere that dominated the era of the 1950s embroiled in social unrest and urban corruption.
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, expressed in an essay inside the book: “From the beginning, the prosecution and punishment of crime in this country have been profoundly shaped by race, poverty, power, and status. For centuries politicians have stoked fear of crime and exploited perceived crime waves, while our public discourse about crime has been compromised by persistent inattention to our history of racial violence. There is a different narrative about ‘crime in America’ that we have for the most part ignored.”
The book is available for purchase at select stockists including Steidle’s website for € 38.00 EUR (approx. $44 USD).