Monday, February 18, 2008

Gordon Parks And The Fontanelle Family

from 8/1/06 from pseudo-intellectualism there's a really good slide show that is linked

When the subject of the Fontanelle family comes up, Parks becomes somber. "The problem in documenting a family like that," he explains, "is that, you wonder, in the end, whether you should have touched the family, or just left them alone." Parks questions the issue of altering lives, such as the Fontanelle family's, because of the tragic outcome of their story. Parks assignment began when LIFE managing editor Philip Kunhardt asked Parks why black people were rioting throughout urban areas of America. Parks answered Kunhardt by going to live with a black family for one month in Harlem. After assuring Bessie Fontanelle, the family matriarch, that Parks's essay would benefit the community, she welcomed him into her family's home in a decrepit Harlem tenement building. Here, the family is shown at a Harlem welfare office. "It was difficult," Parks admits. "The husband was unemployed, the family had no food, it was wintertime but the kids couldn't attend school because they had no winter clothes. And it was difficult not to immediately, being in my position, take money in, take food in, to ease their situation. Because the minute you do that you've lost your story. So you pray and hope that you can get your story over as quickly as possible, and that there will be a response from the public." Which is what happened, but before money poured in from the public, Parks had to stand back and watch the family suffer. With the funds LIFE and its readers contributed to the Fontanelles, a small house was bought on Long Island as a refuge for the family from the filth and chaos of the Harlem tenement. Three months after they moved in, the father [drunk at the time] burned down the house by dropping a lit cigarette on the family's new sofa. "The father died in the fire, little Kenneth, one of my favorites, died in the fire. Little Norman died mysteriously two years later, the other girl [sucking her thumb in the image shown here] died from AIDS, as did two of her sisters. The whole family was destroyed," Parks sighs.
I came across the article mentioned in an old 1968 Life Magazine that my wife bought (I guess not all her online purchases are frivolous). A search on the Fontanelle story came up with a piece on a 2004 award winning documentary called "Family Portraits" about the only two surviving family members "Another big festival winner was Patricia Riggen’s documentary Family Portrait, which received the New Line Cinema Award for Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking. In this moving and insightful documentary, Richard Fontanelle and Diana Nash—the only surviving members of the family originally photographed in 1968 by Gordon Parks—render their own family portrait as they recount the challenges the family faced. Riggen,Parks and Fontanelle, who now works as a superintendent for Columbia University, recently were featured on NPR’s Tavis Smiley Show. Riggen spoke about the sadness surrounding the tale of the Fontanelle family, and the purpose of her documentary: “Right now, there are a million black kids that live in extreme poverty in this country. So what I’m hoping is to call some attention to that because what happened [in1968] is still happening right now.”
Here's a slide show I created from scans of this remarkable work of Parks


blogger templates | Make Money Online