Pictures of American Teenagers in Paris in the 1950s

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Gordon Parks is an amazing vintage photographer whose work deserves a proper post one day since to show the above images without proper caption is to discredit the more serious nature of many of his photographs. He had a unique photography career that managed to cover fashion photography, photo-essays with LIFE, and civil rights work.

His series capturing American teenagers studying in Paris and was taken by the striking and exuberant images. Parks often photographed his subjects in motion and unlike the more graceful and staged images typical of this period, in this series we see candid, documentary-style moments.

The years that Parks spent in Paris were a turning point in his life. He was one of many African-Americans, from writers and musicians to cabbies and cooks, who experienced a freedom in the city that they had never found in the United States. He described this critical period in his 1990 memoir, Voices in the Mirror:

I needed Paris. It was a feast, a grand carnival of imagery, and immediately everything good there seemed to offer sublimation to those inner desires that had for so long been hampered by racism back in America. For the first time in my life I was relaxing from tension and pressure. My thoughts, continually rampaging against racial conditions, were suddenly becoming as peaceful as snowflakes. Slowly a curtain was dropping between me and those soiled years.

American faces on a Paris bus look unaffected by the French environment. This group, which is headed toward the Arc de Triomphe, is going home from Saturday afternoon football game in the Bois.

American feet on Paris street are shod in the same sort of low-heeled shoes that identify teen-agers at home. But this group goes along with Paris styles and usually wears nylons instead of bobby sox.

In the Bois de Boulogne, a Saturday afternoon football game is watched by girls and a father (left). Occasionally a few French boys join in the game.

On the Champs-Elysees, after watching a Saturday afternoon movie from Hollywood, seven American girls stop for some Cokes at Colisée Café.

Jam session in shadowy cellar of Vieux Colombier attracts a crowd of Americans (foreground). Their compatriot, Clarinetist “Mezz” Mezzrow (left), is the big attraction. On such forays, the boys save money by dividing a bottle of champagne eight ways. In Paris, American teen-agers ignore Eckstine and Sinatra records as démodé, prefer French Crooners Charles Trenet and Yves Montand. They have a favorite French tune, Fou de Vous (Crazy About You).

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