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Gordon Parks

Text from Wikipedia

Parks, Gordon
American, 1912-2006

Gordon Parks (November 30, 1912 – March 7, 2006) was a groundbreaking African-American photographer, musician, poet, novelist, journalist, activist and film director. He is best remembered for his photo essays for Life magazine and as the director of the 1971 film Shaft.

The youngest of 15 children, Gordon Roger Alexander Buchannan Parks was born into a poor, black family in Fort Scott, Kansas, a segregated town in rural Kansas. His mother, a staunch Methodist, was the main influence on his life, refusing to allow her son to justify failure with the excuse that he had been born black, and instilling in him self-confidence, ambition and a capacity for hard work.

In Parks' early teens, his mother died and he was sent to live with a married sister in St. Paul, Minnesota. He and his brother-in-law did not get along and he was evicted within a few weeks. He slept in trolley cars, loitered in pool halls, played piano in a brothel, worked as a factotum in a whites-only club, and worked as a waiter on a luxury train.

Parks later commented: “I had a mother who would not allow me to complain about not accomplishing something because I was black. Her attitude was, ‘If a white boy can do it, then you can do it, too—and do it better, or don’t come home.’”

In 1938, Parks was struck by photographs of migrant workers in a magazine and bought his first camera, a Voightlander Brilliant, for $12.50 at a pawnshop. The photo clerks who developed Parks' first roll of film, applauded his work and prompted him to get a fashion assignment at Frank Murphys women’s clothing store in St. Paul. Parks' double exposed every frame except one, but that shot caught the eye of Marva Louis, boxer Joe Louis' elegant wife. She encouraged Parks to move to Chicago, where he begain a portrait business for society women.

Over the next few years, Parks moved from job to job, developing a freelance portrait and fashion photographer sideline. He began to chronicle the city's South Side black ghetto and in 1941 an exhibition of those photographs won Parks a photography fellowship with the Farm Security Administration. Working as a trainee under Roy Stryker, Parks created one of his best known photographs, American Gothic.[1] The photo shows the black woman who worked on the cleaning crew for the FSA building, standing stiffly in front of an American flag, mop in one hand and broom in the other.

After the FSA disbanded, Parks remained in Washington as a correspondent with the Office of War Information, but became disgusted with the prejudice he encountered and resigned in 1944. Moving to Harlem, Parks became a freelance fashion photographer for Vogue. He later followed Stryker to the Standard Oil (New Jersey) Photography Project, which assigned photographers to take pictures of small towns and industrial centers. Parks' most striking of the period included Dinner Time at Mr. Hercules Brown's Home, Somerville, Maine (1944); Grease Plant Worker, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1946); Car Loaded with Furniture on Highway (1945); and Ferry Commuters, Staten Island, N.Y. (1946).

Parks renewed his search for photography jobs in the fashion world. Despite racist attitudes of the day, Vogue editor Alexander Liberman hired him to shoot a collection of evening gowns. Parks photographed fashion for Vogue for the next few years. During this time, he published his first two books, Flash Photography (1947) and Camera Portraits: Techniques and Principles of Documentary Portraiture (1948).

A 1948 photo essay on a young Harlem gang leader won Parks a staff job as a photographer and writer with Life magazine. For 20 years, Parks produced photos on subject including fashion, sports, Broadway, poverty, racial segregation, and portraits of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Muhammad Ali, and Barbra Streisand. His 1961 photo essay on a poor Brazilian boy named Flavio da Silva, who was dying from bronchial pneumonia and malnutrition, brought donations that saved the boy's life and paid for a new home for his family.


 


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