Gordon Parks, the photographer turned writer- filmmaker- poet- activist- musician, died in New York City yesterday at age 93. The NY Times obituary is comprehensive and chronicles his feats: The first African-American photographer for Life magazine, the first black Hollywood producer-director, one of the founders of Essence.
An iconoclast, Mr. Parks fashioned a career that resisted categorization. No matter what medium he chose for his self-expression, he sought to challenge stereotypes while still communicating to a large audience. In finding early acclaim as a photographer despite a lack of professional training, he became convinced that he could accomplish whatever he set his mind to. To an astonishing extent, he proved himself right.
Gordon Parks developed his ability to overcome barriers in childhood, facing poverty, prejudice and the death of his mother when he was a teen-ager. Living by his wits during what would have been his high-school years, he came close to being claimed by urban poverty and crime. But his nascent talent, both musical and visual, was his exit visa.
His success as a photographer was largely due to his persistence and persuasiveness in pursuing his subjects, whether they were film stars and socialites or an impoverished slum child in Brazil.
We love this quote Parks gave in 1998, via the Daily News obituary, "You know, the camera is not meant just to show misery. You can show things that you like about the universe, things that you hate about the universe. It's capable of doing both.
Here are some resources about Parks and his work:
- Wikipedia on Parks
- The Library of Congress on his most famous photograph, American Gothic
- And some of his works: Books The Learning Tree (a novel about his youth that later became the movie he produced and directed), Half Past Autumn and A Hungry Heart, photographs in The Great LIFE Photographers, and film, the 1971 version of Shaft.