Parks, Gordon 1912-2006

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Parks, Gordon 1912-2006
(Gordon Roger Alexander Parks)


See index for CA sketch: Born November 30, 1912, in Ft. Scott, KS; died March 7, 2006, in New York, NY. Photographer, film director, composer, and author. One of the most famous photographers of the twentieth century, Parks was also a talented moviemaker known for such films as Shaftand The Learning Tree, as well as being a music composer, poet, fiction writer, and journalist. Growing up the youngest child of a poor family in Kansas, he used his musical talent to gain one of his first jobs: piano player at a house of ill repute; he also found work as a railroad dining-car waiter. Fate took a more fortunate turn for him after he purchased a camera at a pawn shop and started earning money as a freelance fashion photographer in prewar Minneapolis. DuringWorld War II, Parks remained stateside, working for the Farm Security Administration and then for the Office of War Information. It was with the former government job that he snapped one of his most famous photos, "American Gothic, 194,2" which portrays a cleaning lady holding a broom and mop in a pose that satirized Grant Wood's painting of a noble farming couple. After the war, Parks was employed by the Standard Oil Company in New Jersey for three years before joining the staff at Life magazine. From 1948 until the magazine shut its doors in 1972, he became famous for his photo essays depicting poverty, racism, and other social problems in America; his concern for women's issues would later lead him to help found the magazine Essence, which is directed at a black women audience. He also started publishing books, including guides on photography and his first novel, The Learning Tree (1963), which he would adapt to film in 1968. His first poetry collections, A Poet and His Camera (1968) and Gordon Parks: Whispers of Intimate Things (1971), were also released. Though he did not produce many films over the years, the quality of the movies Parks created have led many to consider him to be on a par with such great filmmakers as John Ford. After The Learning Tree, for which he also composed the score, he completed the well-known blaxploitation film Shaft(1971); Parks was also critically praised for his 1976 release, Leadbelly. He made no more films after Leadbelly,but continued to work on his writing and photography; he also composed piano sonatas, a symphony, and a ballet, Martin (1990), about Martin Luther King, Jr. His willingness to adapt with changing times can be especially recognized in his photos, and in more recent years he fearlessly employed computer manipulation to his images. Among his many other publications are the poetry collection Moments without Proper Names (1975), the novel Shannon(1981), Glimpses toward Infinity (1996), and A Star for Noon: An Homage to Women in Images, Poetry, and Music (2000). The recipient of numerous awards and honors for his contributions to the arts, including the National Medal of Arts in 1988 and induction into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum in 2000, Parks has had an enduring impact on American society. He was a true Renaissance man with a fervent social conscience.



Parks, Gordon, A Choice of Weapons, Harper (New York, NY), 1966.

Parks, Gordon, To Smile in Autumn: A Memoir, Norton (New York, NY), 1979.

Parks, Gordon, Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography,Doubleday (New York, NY), 1990.


Chicago Tribune, March 8, 2006, section 1, pp. 1, 12.

Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2006, pp. A1, A12.

New York Times, March 8, 2006, p. C16.

Times (London, England), March 9, 2006, p. 69.

Washington Post, March 8, 2006, pp. A1, A13.

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Parks, Gordon 1912-2006

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