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Gordon Parks

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Information about Gordon Parks

Profile image of Gordon Parks

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
EntertainmentMakers
Occupation(s):
Fiction Writer
Film Director
Photographer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue, Green
Favorite Food:
Steak, Salad
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Southern France, Vail, Colorado
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
11/30/1912
Birth Location:
Fort Scott, Kansas

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
EntertainmentMakers
Occupation(s):
Fiction Writer
Film Director
Photographer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue, Green
Favorite Food:
Steak, Salad
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Southern France, Vail, Colorado
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
11/30/1912
Birth Location:
Fort Scott
See how Gordon Parks is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

A versatile and prolific artist, Gordon Parks, Sr., warrants his status as a cultural icon. The poet, novelist, film director, and preeminent documentary and fashion photographer was born on November 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kansas, the youngest of fifteen children. Parks saw no reason to stay in Kansas after the death of his mother and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, at age sixteen to live with his sister. After a disagreement with his brother-in-law, Parks soon found himself homeless, supporting himself by playing piano and basketball and working as a busboy.

While working on a train as a waiter, Parks noticed a magazine with photographs from the Farm Security Administration (FSA). The photos by such documentary photographers as Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee and Arthur Rothstein led him to Richard Wright’s 12 Million Black Voices, other photo essays about poverty and racism, and the social and artistic voice he had been seeking. Parks bought a used camera in 1938, deciding on a career in photography. In 1941, Parks received a fellowship from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation to work with Roy Stryker at the photography section of the FSA. In Washington, D.C., he trained as a photojournalist. He would work with Stryker for the next few years, producing work and honing the modernist and individualistic style he became known for by photographing small towns and industrial centers throughout America.

By the end of the 1940s, Parks was working with Life and Vogue and in that capacity did some of his most famous work. Traveling the globe and covering issues as varied as the fashion industry, poverty in Brazil, the Nation of Islam, gang violence, and eventually celebrity portraitures, Parks continued to develop and create new ways to convey meaning through his work.

Branching out from his photography in 1963, Parks directed his first film, The Learning Tree, based on his autobiographical novel of the same name. Parks went on to direct many films, including Shaft in 1971. In addition to film, Parks composed music and written several books including: A Choice of Weapons (1966), To Smile in Autumn (1979), Voices in the Mirror (1990), Arias of Silence (1994), and a retrospective of his life and work titled Half Past Autumn (1997), which was recently made into an HBO special.

Parks passed away on March 7, 2006 at the age of 93.

See how Gordon Parks is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Gordon Parks' interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Gordon Parks's favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Gordon Parks explains how he wrote 'The Learning Tree'
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Gordon Parks describes his mother
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Gordon Parks describes his father
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Gordon Parks describes his childhood home
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Gordon Parks discusses his siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Gordon Parks shares memories of childhood games, musical instruments and death
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Gordon Parks discusses the racial relations of his childhood neighborhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Gordon Parks retells the trial story from 'The Learning Tree'
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Gordon Parks describes the racial interactions growing up
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Gordon Parks recalls his mother's death
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Gordon Parks moves to St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Gordon Parks discusses confrontation with brother-in-law
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Gordon Parks's homelessness in St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Gordon Parks plays with the House of David Basketball Team
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Gordon Parks discusses his friends and future wife
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Gordon Parks becomes a traveling musician
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Gordon Parks travels to Harlem, NY
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Gordon Parks discusses his piano inspirations and talent development
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Gordon Parks discusses his experience with gypsies
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Gordon Parks is inspired to purchase his first camera
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Gordon Parks plays the Harlem Globetrotters
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Gordon Parks discusses his first role of pictures
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Gordon Parks wins the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship and works with the Farm Security Administration
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Gordon Parks discusses his mentor, Roy Stryker
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Gordon Parks describes the camera as a weapon
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Gordon Parks discusses 'American Gothic' (1942)
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Gordon Parks begins career at 'Life' magazine
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Gordon Parks is assigned to 'Life' magazine's Paris office
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Gordon Parks describes a racial incident in Paris, France
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Gordon Parks creates a piano concerto
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Gordon Parks discusses the end of his marriage with Sally
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Gordon Parks discusses violence as a 'Life' photographer
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Gordon Parks discusses danger as a 'Life' Magazine Photographer
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Gordon Parks discusses the film, 'The Learning Tree'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Gordon Parks discusses the film, 'Shaft'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Gordon Parks discusses 'Half Past Autumn'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Gordon Parks discusses what he wishes he'd done
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Gordon Parks discusses poetry in his art
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Gordon Parks reads from 'Half Past Autumn'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Gordon Parks considers his Legacy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Poster -- Gordon Parks with the House of David Basketball Team (1930s)
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Poster -- Detail of Gordon Parks with the House of David Basketball Team (1930s)
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Photo -- Gordon Parks's Mother, Sarah Parks
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Photo -- Gordon Parks's Father, Andrew Jackson Parks (1939)
  • Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Photo -- Gordon Parks with Actress Dina Merrill
  • Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Photo -- Gordon Parks Receives 45th Honorary Doctorate from Princeton University (May 2000)
  • Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Photo -- Gordon Parks
  • Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Photo -- Gordon Parks's Third Wife, Gene
  • Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Photo -- Gordon Parks with David Dinkins
  • Tape: 5 Story: 16 - Photo -- Gordon Parks and Family Members
  • Tape: 5 Story: 17 - Photo -- Gordon Parks's Great-Grandson, Ramsey
  • Tape: 5 Story: 18 - Photo -- Gordon Parks with Muhammad Ali