Earlier this year, rapper Kendrick Lamar released the video for “Element.,” a standout track from his recent album Damn. Twitter was quick to point out that some of its striking imagery was familiar. Indeed, the entire video is a tribute to renowned photographer Gordon Parks (1912-2006), known for his depictions of African-American life in the 20th century and for documenting the Civil Rights movement.
Now, seizing the moment, the Gordon Parks Foundation in Pleasantville, New York has opened “Element.: Gordon Parks and Kendrick Lamar,” an exhibition that unites Parks’s images with those from the video.
Directed by Jonas Lindstroem and The Little Homies (the name under which Lamar and his childhood friend Dave Free direct), the DAMN. video brings to life some of Parks’s most famous photos in live-action recreations. Its opening shot, for instance, depicts a hand emerging from a shimmering body of water—a nod to Parks’s untitled 1963 photo of the same subject.
The clip goes on to reference several others, including Parks’s shot of a young boy dragging a June bug down his face (Boy With Junebug, 1963), and his picture of a row of boys standing at a barbed wire fence, one pointing a toy gun (Untitled, 1956).
Parks first made his mark in the 1940s, when an exhibition of his works in Chicago led to a fellowship with the Farm Security Administration’s photography program. There, he joined the likes of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange as photographers tasked with chronicling the lives of poverty-stricken people in rural America. In 1943, after the onset of World War II resulted in the downsizing of the FSA, Parks took up freelance fashion and editorial work—a path which eventually led to a staff photographer role at LIFE magazine.
He would go on to work for two decades at LIFE, producing the majority of his best-known work during that time, including all of the photos alluded to in Lamar’s video.
“Gordon Parks’ work is continuing to have a great impact on young people—and particularly on artists like Kendrick who use the power of imagery to examine issues related to social justice and race in our country,” said Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., the foundation’s executive director, in a statement. “With the “Element.” music video, Kendrick has helped to call attention to one of the most important artists of our time.”
“Element.” is on view through February 10 at the Gordon Parks Foundation in Pleasantville, NY.