At the beginning of the 1940s, Gordon Parks was a self-taught fashion and portrait photographer documenting daily life in both St. Paul and Chicago. By the end of the decade he was photographing for Life magazine. While his career has been examined closely, both in his own words and by others, this formative decade has attracted less attention than his experiences as the first black staff photographer at Life, and later as a groundbreaking Hollywood filmmaker.

A new book, “Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940-1950,” published by the National Gallery of Art, The Gordon Parks Foundation and Steidl, examines this transformation. It is timed to accompany the exhibit of the same name at the National Gallery from Nov. 4, 2018, to Feb. 18, 2019. The exhibit was curated by Philip Brookman, who is also the book’s author. The book features photographs that have never before been published, as well as additional essays by Sarah Lewis, Deborah Willis, Richard J. Powell and Maurice Berger, who writes the Race Stories column for Lens.

Ms. Willis, who is a noted photographer, author and the chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, knew Mr. Parks well. She spoke with James Estrin about Mr. Parks, and their conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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