Artworks
The Invisible Man (Harlem, New York)
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Now you see me... Now you don’t. This is the story of the uncovering of Gordon Parks’ and Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man (Harlem, New York).

Learning that two famous artistic minds were buddies is always a treat. Discovering that their collaborations are largely lost to history...not so much. In an unfortunate act of irony, their photography essay of The Invisible Man was never published in full and only a few remnants - such as this photo - remain. Their first collaboration, “Harlem is Nowhere," didn’t even reach publication; the magazine they made it for went under before it could be released. 

The loss may not compare to the Library of Alexandria, but it’s still a shame that Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison’s collab projects were kind of shafted. This image in particular was intended to be the opening shot for their collaboration and meant to visually illustrate Ellison’s "Invisible Man" novel. A novel that he wrote part of while house-sitting for his good friend Parks.

Another bit of irony is that this image in particular isn’t from the novel. It’s Parks’ hopeful epilogue of the main character escaping the underground darkness. If the theme here feels familiar you might be thinking of the Sunken Place from "Get out." The protagonist of the film, Chris, is also reminiscent of Parks himself, since our introduction to him is a sequence of his black and white photography taken in New York. Both Chris and Parks used their photography skills to uncover raw and harsh truths, but in Chris’s case this took a much more nightmare inducing path. 

Eventually, both Parks and Ellison had their work on this project published...sort of. Life published a severely shortened version of their essay, only giving them a few pages, and Ellison’s essay was later published with different photos not taken by Parks. Ellison didn’t have much since he lost the rights to the essay after a messy legal battle. 

Recently, more of the artists’ work from their collaborations has been brought together for a gallery exhibition reunion, but the full print versions as the artists intended are still lost to us. So anyone out there with a time machine, pay them a visit in 1948 after you prevent the Library of Alexandria from burning.

Sources

Sources

  1. Cripps, Ed. "Gordon Parks: Through the Lens." The Rake. March 07, 2018. Accessed November 20, 2018. https://therake.com/stories/icons/gordon-parks-through-the-lens/.
  2. Get out. Directed by Jordan Peele. Performed by Daniel Kaluuya, Bradley Whitford, Stephen Root, Allison Williams, Caleb Landry Jones, and Catherine Keener. Universal City, CA: Universal PIctures Home Entertainment, 2017. Film.
  3. "Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem." The Art Institute of Chicago. 2016. Accessed November 20, 2018. https://www.artic.edu/exhibitions/2405/invisible-man-gordon -parks-and-ralph-ellison-in-harlem.
  4. Mason, John Edwin. "Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison's Collaborative Visions of Harlem." Hyperallergic. August 21, 2016. Accessed November 20, 2018. https://hyperallergic.com/318176/gordon-parks -and-ralph-ellisons-collaborative-visions-of-harlem/.