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Artists Gordon Parks
Gordon Parks Photo

Gordon Parks

American Photographer, Musician, Writer, and Film Director

Movements and Styles: Documentary Photography, Photojournalism, Fashion Photography

Born: November 30, 1912 - Fort Scott, Kansas

Died: March 7, 2006 - Manhattan, New York

Gordon Parks Timeline

Quotes

"I suffered evils, but without allowing them to rob me of the freedom to expand."
Gordon Parks
"The guy who takes a chance, who walks in line between the known and the unknown, who is unafraid of failure, will succeed."
Gordon Parks
"At first I wasn't sure that I had talent, but I did know I had a fear of failure, and that fear compelled me to fight off anything that might abet it."
Gordon Parks
"The photographer begins to feel big and bloated and so big he can't walk through one of these doors because he gets a good byline; he gets notices all over the world and so forth; but they're really- the important people are the people the photographs."
Gordon Parks
"I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapons against what I hate most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty. I could have just as easily picked up a knife or gun, like many of my childhood friends did... most of whom were murdered or put in prison... but I chose not to go that way. I felt that I could somehow subdue these evils by doing something beautiful that people recognize me by, and thus make a whole different life for myself, which has proven to be so."
Gordon Parks
"I felt it is the heart, not the eye, that should determine the content of the photograph. What the eye sees is its own. What the heart can perceive is a very different matter."
Gordon Parks

"I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sort s of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera."

Synopsis

Gordon Parks is a photographer known for documenting the African American experience of racism and poverty from 1940s to 1970s. He said, "my purpose has been to communicate to somehow evoke the same response from a seamstress in Harlem or a housewife in Paris." Foremost a storyteller with a camera and a pen, his early work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and Standard Oil honed his documentary skills, enabling him to narrate a humanist view of African-American lives. Parks' sensitivity, yet versatility in capturing hard-hitting news, feature stories, life on the street, individual portraits, and fashion collections made him indispensable to his editors and readers at Life magazine, enabling him to represent a more complex view of reality and communicate difficult truths to a mainstream audience.

Parallel to his professional ascent at the most prestigious illustrated magazine of the era, Parks' career was defined by a series of barriers overcome. Parks' race and even his status as a trailblazer enabled him to enter the hidden worlds of the poor, marginalized, and the oppressed. He became Life magazine's "visual ambassador" straddled with the responsibility to maintain an equilibrium between journalistic ethics and the profound empathy for the individuals and communities he photographed.

Key Ideas

Parks narrated individual stories that had a universal, symbolic meaning. His photo essays relied on a compelling person or family to embody the subject matter of his assignment. Parks visualized the African-American experience through the fullest range of subjects and across differences of class, education, occupation, belief, language, environment, and attitude.
He was a cultural pioneer: the first African-American photographer to work for the FSA, Life magazine, and Vogue, and to direct a major Hollywood motion picture. More notable is the extraordinary access he was granted to inaccessible subcultures, which enabled Parks to explore the civil rights and Black Power movements, and the rising new generation of African-American leaders.
Working across photography's diverse fields, from advertising, fashion to documentary, Parks learned to use the camera "as a means of persuasion" - to borrow his own words - which very significantly engendered increasing trust and latitude from his editors during the 1960s. Parks worked hard to persuade his readers of the values of social justice.
With the film Shaft (1971), released by MGM, Parks provided the precise blueprint for the black action film genre called Blaxploitation. These films revolved around a sexy, omnipotent hero, modeled on the style of a Black James Bond.
Parks instinctively understood himself as an artist from an early age. He readily communicated the individual spirit and beauty, as well as the richness of the arts and culture as a photojournalist. Throughout his career, he worked as a musician and composer, a photographer, filmmaker, and painter; novelist, memoirist, and poet to transport his readers and viewers to a better sense of themselves.

Biography

Gordon Parks Photo

Childhood

Gordon Rodger Alexander Buchanan Parks was born in 1912 in Fort Scott, Kansas to Sarah and Andrew Jackson Parks, a tenant farmer and odd jobs man. He was the youngest of fifteen children and attended a segregated elementary school. Parks then attended the integrated Mechanical Arts High School, since the town did not have enough money for a second high school to maintain segregation. This integrated school, however, continued segregation in the way it limited the activities of the black students; for example, they were not allowed to play sports, attend social events hosted by the school, and were discouraged from pursuing higher education. When Parks was eleven, three white bullies threw him into the Marmaton River hoping he would drown. He escaped by ducking underwater so they would not see him make it to land. Thus, and in numerous other ways, Parks experienced from an early age the systemic racism prevalent in American society.

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Gordon Parks Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Gordon Parks
Interactive chart with Gordon Parks's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Ralph EllisonRalph Ellison
James Baldwin
Langston Hughes
Roy StrykerRoy Stryker
Margaret Bourke-White

Personal Contacts

Malcom X

Movements

Social RealismSocial Realism
PhotojournalismPhotojournalism
Documentary PhotographyDocumentary Photography

Influences on Artist
Gordon Parks
Gordon Parks
Years Worked: 1937 - 2006
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Spike Lee
Carrie Mae Weems
Mickalene ThomasMickalene Thomas
LaToya Ruby Frazier

Personal Contacts

Joel Freeman

Movements

PhotojournalismPhotojournalism
Fashion PhotographyFashion Photography

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Alden Burke

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alden Burke
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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