Gordon Parks

February 10, 2021

Gordon Parks attends 1963 March on Washington.

USIA Photographer (NARA)

Gordon Parks attends 1963 March on Washington.

Gordon Parks was born Nov. 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kansas and passed away Mar. 7, 2006, in New York, New York at the age of 93. Parks is considered one of the greatest twentieth century photographers. 

Born into segregation and poverty, Parks was entirely self-taught. His work centered on race relations, urban life, and civil rights. Growing up during the Great Depression era influenced his work heavily. As time went on, Parks began creating photographic series on the civil rights movement including Malcolm X , Harlem gangs and many more. 

“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs,” Parks said in an interview in 1999. “I knew at that point I had to have a camera.”

After gaining widespread praise for his photo essay of a Harlem gang leader, he earned a position as the first African American staff photographer and writer for Life magazine. His skill extended into the fashion industry for two decades. 

Parks ventured out to writing and eventually directing. He became the first African American to write and direct a major Hollywood film, which was based upon his book “The Learning Tree.” After his debut, he directed the box-office hit Shaft, ultimately creating the blaxploitation genre. 

The work that Parks created has left its mark on the world. His work resides in numerous museums, one being the Art Institute of Chicago. Capturing the true essence of the social climate African Americans lived in during that time, Parks was an activist for change. He was a true visionary that crossed boundaries and created art for social justice.

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