Gordon Parks Dead at 93

Gordon Parks, the multi-talented, mustachioed Renaissance Man, whose writings, photographs and films spanned more than five decades, died Tuesday. He was 93.

A renowned author, poet, film director and composer, Parks will first and foremost be remembered as photographer.  He bought a camera for $7.50 when he was 25 years old and seven years later was on his way to becoming the most notable Black photographer of his day.


His photo essays on the poor and disfranchised, as well as his classic photos of the major events and players in the Civil Rights Movement, were hailed by critics and historians throughout the world.

Eventually Parks became an author and film director as well. His film “The Learning Tree” was released in 1969, making him the first African-American to direct and score a film for a major studio.  While “The Learning Tree” would be selected by the Library of Congress as one of the 25 most influential films of all time, his most popular film was by far “Shaft” in 1971.

Parks would eventually direct three other Hollywood films and author several books, but it was his photography for which he would continue to be best known, even in his senior years. In 1998, he recreated Art Kane’s famous photograph of jazz greats, “A Great Day in Harlem” for XXL magazine, this time the musical greats were hip-hop artists.

Gordon Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kan., on Nov. 30, 1912. The youngest of 15 children, he taught himself photography and began his career as a freelance photographer in Chicago. By 1944, he had become the first Black fashion photographer for Vogue magazine.

But it was at Life that he thrived, covering most of the major events of the tumultuous 20 years he was there. By their placement in a mainstream publication, Parks’ photos of the Civil Rights Movement helped usher in a change in the very fabric of American society.

He also provided an intimate look into the tragedy of poverty by shooting Harlem gang members, a child living in abject conditions in the slums of Brazil, and his famed series on the Fontanelles, a New York City family on welfare.

After writing several books, including a memoir, an autobiography and several tomes on photography, Parks also found time to co-found Essence magazine.

Among his many accolades, he received the Spingarn Medal in 1972 and in 1988, he received a National Medal of Arts. In his later years, Parks continued to take photos, write, travel, compose, and attend many of the tributes and retrospectives in his honor.

In 2002, Jason Miccolo Johnson, a D.C.-based photographer, helped celebrate Gordon’s 90th birthday by uniting 90 of the nation’s most respected Black photographers in Harlem.

Parks wrote the foreword to Johnson’s first book of photography, “Soul Sanctuary: Images of the African American Experience,” scheduled for release in late-April.

Among Gordon’s more than 20 books were such renowned works as the autobiographical “The Learning Tree,” on which the film was based six years later, about growing up in rural Kansas, and “A Choice of Weapons,” a 1966 memoir.

Many of his books conveyed his lifelong passion, photography. Among those were “A Poet and His Camera” (1968), “In Love” (1971), “Whispers of Intimate Things” (1971), “Born Black: A Personal Report on the Decade of Black Revolt 1960-1970” (1971), and his most recent work, “A Star for Noon: An Homage to Women in Images, Poetry and Music” (2000), a book of nude photographs.

Posted by CHANNI on 03/08 at 11:14 AM in Photography

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