Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Element’ Owes Itself To Famed Black Photographer Gordon Parks

Source: YouTube

Kendrick Lamar’s “Element” is sure to grab viewers’ attention for its thought-provoking imagery, as it showcases a certain violence and aggression that were absent in fellow visual offerings from DAMN. But one integral part of “Element” is its use of scenes directly inspired by photos from iconic black photographer Gordon Parks.

Throughout the 1940s and 1970s Parks became a U.S. documentary photojournalist, with his work dedicated toward telling the stories of black people in America. Raw and unflinching, there was always something beautifully poignant about Parks’ work, as it showcased a perspective that is still disregarded in this country — that of the black American.

It’s fitting that Lamar would use some of Parks’ work considering the photographer would have been 105 years-old this year. Here, we highlight some of Parks’ images that are used in “Element.”


The scene in which a ladybug crawls on a black child’s head is taken from Parks’ “Boy With June Bug,” which he shot back in 1963.

Boy With June Bug, Fort Scott, Kansas, 1963. Photo courtesy of the Gordon Parks Foundation.


This scene is inspired by Parks’ “Black Muslims Train In Self-Defense,” which was taken in Chicago in 1963.

Black Muslims Train In Self-Defense, Chicago, Illinois, 1963. Photo courtesy of the Gordon Parks Foundation


As a child points a toy gun at a moving car and two other children look on, the moment is taken from Parks’ “Untitled” photo taken in Alabama in 1956.

Untitled, Alabama, 1956. Photo courtesy of the Gordon Parks Foundation.


As you see the group of women slowly raise their heads and look directly into the camera the scene is reminiscent of Parks’ picture of Ethel Shariff, Elijah Muhammad’s daughter, in Chicago in 1963.

Elijah Muhammad’s Daughter, Ethel Shariff, Chicago, 1963. Photo courtesy of the Gordon Parks Foundation.

Elijah C. Watson

Elijah Watson serves as Okayplayer's News & Culture Editor. When he's not writing he's listening to Sade and crying or watching My Hero Academia with his partner.

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Elijah C. Watson

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