American Photographer Gordon Parks has been called “the most important black photographer in the history of photojournalism” – the man who taught himself how to take pictures at the age of twenty-five with a Voigtländer Brillant that he purchased at a pawn shop.
In 1948, after a stint with the Farm Security Administration (F.S.A.) covering the nation’s social conditions, he garnered attention with his photo essay on the life of a Harlem gang leader that won him widespread acclaim and a place as the first African-American staff photographer and writer for Life Magazine – where he stayed for two decades. Parks work captures some of the most iconic moments in American Culture from the early 1940’s up until his death in 2006. As a humanitarian, he seemed most passionate about capturing the nation in its moments of social upheaval with an air of timelessness. His lens so often found the dignity and pride of the people whose portraits accompanied these stories.
Parks was multi-faceted man – he was also a humanitarian, a musician, a film director, and a writer. “He spent much of the last three decades of his life expanding his style, conducting experiments with color photography. He continued working up until his death in 2006, winning many awards, including the National Medal of Arts in 1988, and over fifty honorary doctorates. He was also a noted composer and author, and in 1969, became the first African-American to write and direct a Hollywood feature film based on his bestselling novel The Learning Tree. This was followed in 1971 by the hugely successful motion picture Shaft. The core of his accomplishment, however, remains his photography the scope, quality, and enduring national significance of which is reflected throughout the Collection. According to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Center at Harvard University, “Gordon Parks is the most important black photographer in the history of photojournalism. Long after the events that he photographed have been forgotten, his images will stay with us, testaments to the genius of his art, transcending time, place and subject.”**
You can become better acquainted with his legacy of work at The Gordon Parks Foundation.
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*images courtesy of Time Magazine. **quote from Biography of Parks at Gates Foundation website.