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Shotguns and sundress down south

ICONIC IMAGE: Joanne Thornton Wilson and her niece, Shirley Anne Kirksey stand underneath a neon movie theater sign, which points to the establishment’s ‘colored entrance’ in Mobile, Alabama

IN SEPTEMBER 1956 Life magazine published a photo-essay by Gordon Parks entitled The Restraints: Open and Hidden, which documented the everyday activities and rituals of three African American families living in the rural South under Jim Crow segregation laws.

POW POW: Young boys pose with guns in a front yard

One of the most powerful photographs from the collection depicts Joanne Thornton Wilson and her niece, Shirley Anne Kirksey standing in front of a theatre in Mobile, Alabama, an image which became a “forceful weapon of choice”, as Parks would say, in the struggle against racism and segregation.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Children huddle to look at a fun fair behind a gate

While twenty-six photographs were published in Life, and some were exhibited in his lifetime, the bulk of Parks’ assignment was thought to be lost.

COLOURED ONLY: A girl drinks at segregated drinking fountain

But In 2012, six years after Parks’ death at the age of 93, The Gordon Parks Foundation discovered more than seventy colour transparencies at the bottom of an old storage bin marked Segregation Series, which were later published in a photographic book of the same name.

AT HOME: Willie Causey Jr with a shotgun during violence in Shady Grove, Alabama in 1956

A total of 40 prints have now go on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.

COOL DOWN: A family stand at the ‘colored’ counter at a sundae eatery in Shady Grove, Alabama

Parks was Life magazine’s first African-American photographer, and worked for the publication for 20 years, shooting the likes of Muhammad Ali, Barbara Streissand and Malcom X.

He is also known for directing the 1971 Blaxploitation film Shaft.

CAPTURED: Photographer and director Gordon Parks

All images: Gordon Parks, courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation

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