On Gordon Parks- Segregation, Hollywood, Fashion and more….
August 18, 2006
Rarely is one person as talented as Gordon Parks. From directing films such as “The Learning Tree” and “Shaft” to authoring books and music to a prolific and varied photography career, he consistently excelled.
Gordon Banks passed away in March of 2006 at age 93. Here are the awards he received: Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, 1941; Notable Book Award, American Library Association for A Choice of Weapons, 1966; Emmy Award for documentary, Diary of a Harlem Family, 1968; Spingarn Award, 1972; Christopher Award for Flavio, 1978; National Medal of the Arts, 1988; Library of Congress National Film Registry Classics film honor for The Learning Tree, 1989; honorary Doctor of Letters, University of the District of Columbia, 1996; induction into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum, 2002; Jackie Robinson Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002.
He was born in Kansas in an environment “electrified by racial tension“. His photo career started in 1937 while working as a train attendant, Prior to that he had held a variety of jobs, including being a musician. Oddly enough, his early photos were of fashion – something that would follow him for a long time. Even more oddly for a black man at this time, he was successful.
He expanded into documentary photography and landed a job with the famous Farm Security Administration in 1942. Still faced with strong racial prejudice, his anger is clearly shown in his pictures. FSA folded in 1943 and for Parks, it was back to fashion. At that time, black fashion photographers were not exactly a common sight. In fact, he was the first black photographer hired by both Life and Vogue.
For that matter, he was also the first black man to work for FSA. Later on, he became the first black director in a major Hollywood studio. This remarkable series of “firsts” was based on superior talent with quite a dose of anger.
His magazine career continued for years. One editor remarked that “At first he made his name with fashion, but when he covered racial strife for us, there was no question that he was a black photographer with enormous connections and access to the black community and its leaders.”. Malcolm X said “Success among whites never made Parks lose touch with black reality.”
Park’s film career started in 1962 with a movie about Park’s experience with saving the life of a young Brazilian. The boy’s name and that of the film was Flavio. A number of films followed. Simultaneously, he wrote several books, some biographical, some of poetry. He was extremely prolific in the 60s through 80s. He received many honors during this time. In 1995, he donated much of his artistic work to the Library of Congress.
I used many sources to gathter the above material. The principal source can be seen here.
So what about his photography? In my view, his work falls in three main categories: documentary often reflecting racial tension and black poverty, fashion photography and, later in his career, abstract work. Personally, I prefer his documentary work. Not a surprise to those that know me, I feel these documentary pictures reflect a reality seldom seen and very much worth being known and preserved.
So where are all these pictures? I am trying a different approach this time. I’m linking to my external portfolio site. It contains Parks’ photography, as collected by me. I designed and produced the show. This makes it easier for me to manage. It allows showing more photos than within this blog post. HERE IS THE LINK TO THE PARKS PHOTOS.