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Gordon Parks: The Flávio Story

September 12 – December 9, 2018
Main Gallery, Ryerson Image Centre
Co-curators: Paul Roth and Amanda Maddox

This exhibition explores a seminal photo essay by pioneering African-American photojournalist Gordon Parks, and the extraordinary chain of events it prompted. Published in Life magazine in June 1961, “Freedom’s Fearful Foe: Poverty” profiled the da Silva family, living in a hillside favela near a wealthy enclave of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Focused on the eldest son, Flávio, a resourceful twelve-year-old suffering from crippling asthma, the story elicited thousands of letters and nearly $30,000 in donations from Life readers. In response, the magazine launched an extraordinary “rescue” effort—relocating the family to a new home, moving Flávio to a hospital in the United States, and administering funds to support rehabilitation of the favela. Meanwhile, in Brazil the picture story sparked great controversy in the press. The Flávio Story provides an in-depth look at Parks’ most celebrated photo essay in the context of Cold War politics in the United States and Brazil, and at the inner workings and cultural force of the “Great American Magazine.”

Gordon Parks: The Flávio Story is organized by the Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto, Canada, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, USA, in partnership with Instituto Moreira Salles, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and The Gordon Parks Foundation, New York, USA.





Event(s):

Opening Party
Wednesday, September 12
6:00–8:00 PM

Exhibition Tours
Daily 2:30 PM

All events take place at the Ryerson Image Centre, unless otherwise noted

Gordon parks comforting and holding the young boy, Flávio
Fig. 1

Paulo Muniz, Untitled, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1961. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

A boy posed against a wall in tattered clothing
Fig. 2

Gordon Parks, Flavio da Silva, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1961. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Flávio, as a young boy, getting examined by American doctors
Fig. 3

Carl Iwasaki, Untitled, Denver, Colorado, 1961. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Flávio as a young boy putting an ornament on a Christmas tree
Fig. 4

José Gonçalves, Untitled, Denver, Colorado, 1963. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Exhibition Catalogue

Fig. 1

Cover of Gordon Parks: The Flávio Story, published by Steidl

Gordon Parks: The Flávio Story

Co-published by Stiedl and The Gordon Parks Foundation

This book explores a once-popular picture story by Gordon Parks and the extraordinary chain of events it prompted. Published in Life magazine in June 1961 as “Poverty: Freedom’s Fearful Foe,” this empathetic photo-essay profiled the da Silva family, living in a hillside favela near a wealthy enclave of Rio de Janeiro. Focused primarily on the eldest son Flávio, an industrious twelve-year-old suffering from crippling asthma, Parks’ story elicited more than 3,000 letters and $25,000 in donations from Life readers to help the family and the favela.

In Brazil the story sparked controversy; one news magazine, O Cruzeiro, retaliated against Life, sending photographer Henri Ballot to document poverty in New York City. Undeterred, Life embarked on a multi-year “rescue” effort that involved moving Flávio to a Denver hospital, relocating the family to a new home and administering funds to support the favela. The story, as well as Parks’ relationship to Flávio, continued to develop over many years. The details of this extraordinary history provide a fascinating example of US exceptionalism during the early 1960s and a revealing look inside the power and cultural force of the “Great American Magazine.”

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