Gordon Parks – Black History Month

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Gordon Parks

Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks was given birth to on November 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kansas. His father, Jackson Parks, was a veggie farmer, and the family lived modestly.

Parks encountered cut-throat discrimination as a child. He went to a segregated elementary school and has not been permitted to get involved in activities at his high school on account of his race. The teachers actively discouraged African-American individuals from trying to get advanced schooling. Following the death of his mommy, Sarah, when he was 14, Parks left home. He lived with family members for a short time before setting off by himself, getting whatever odd jobs he could find.

A well known Photographer

Gordon Parks photo of Muhammad Ali in 1970

Parks bought his very first camera at the age of 25 after viewing photographs of migrant workers in a magazine. His primary fashion photographs captured the interest of Marva Louis, wife of a boxing champion Joe Louis, whom persuaded Parks to relocate to a bigger city. Parks and his wife, Sally, moved to Chicago in 1940.

Parks begun to explore exposes beyond portraits and fashion photographs in Chicago. His interest involved in the low-income black communities of Chicago’s South Side. In 1941, Parks won a photography fellowship together with the Farm Security Administration for his pictures of the urban city. Parks made some of his more everlasting photographs during this fellowship, including "American Gothic, Washington, D.C.," picturing an associate of the FSA cleaning crew while in front of an American flag.

Gordon Parks Issues in Black and White Ethel Sharrief Elijah Mohammeds Daughter in Chicago of 1963

Following the FSA disbanded, Parks carried on to take pictures for the Office of War Information and the Standard Oil Photography Project. He furthermore became a contract photographer for Vogue. Parks proved helpful for Vogue for several years, creating a unique design and style that highlighted the appearance of models and apparel in motion, as opposed to in static poses.

Relocating to Harlem, Parks persisted to document urban center pictures and persona even while working in the fashion industry. His 1948 photographic dissertation on a Harlem gang leader won Parks a position as a staff photographer for LIFE magazine, the nation’s highest-circulation photographic publication. Parks kept this position for Two decades, delivering photographs on topics together with fashion, sports and entertainment not to mention poverty and racial segregation. He also took portraits of African-American leaders, including Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and Muhammad Ali.

Gordon Parks and a little girl talking

Parks launched a writing career during this time, starting with his 1962 autobiographical novel, The Learning Tree. He would publish a selection of books throughout his life-time, together with a memoir, several works of fiction and volumes on photographic technique.


In 1969, Parks turned out to be the first African American to direct a primary Hollywood movie, the film adaptation of The Learning Tree. He wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the film.

Parks’s next film, Shaft, was one of the biggest box-office hits of 1971. Starring Richard Roundtree as detective John Shaft, the movie encouraged a genre of films referred to as blaxploitation. Isaac Hayes earned an Academy Award for the movie’s theme song. Parks also directed a 1972 sequel, Shaft’s Big Score. His attempt to deviate from the Shaft series, with the 1976 Leadbelly, was not successful. After this failure, Parks continued to produce films for television, but didn’t return to Hollywood.

A woman and her dog in Harlem

Personal Lifestyle

Parks married and divorced 3 times. He and Sally Alvis married in 1933, divorcing in 1961. Parks remarried in 1962, to Elizabeth Campbell. The couple divorced in 1973, at which time Parks married Genevieve Young. Young had met Parks in 1962 when she was designated to be the editor of his book The Learning Tree. They divorced in 1979. Parks was also romantically connected to railroad heiress Gloria Vanderbilt for a period of years.

Parks had four children. His oldest son, filmmaker Gordon Parks Jr., passed away in a 1979 airplane crash in Kenya.

The 93-year-old Gordon Parks passed on from cancer on March 7, 2006, in New York City. He is laid to rest in his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas. Today, Parks is thought of for his pioneering work in the field of photography, which has been an inspiration to many. The famous photographer once said, "People in millenniums ahead will be aware of what we were like in the 1930’s and the thing that, the important major things that formed our background at that time. This is as important for historical reasons as any other."


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