Gordon Parks

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  • Topic: Gordon Parks, Life, Roy Stryker
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  • Published : February 5, 2013
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GORDON PARKS

Gordon Parks was one of the seminal figures of twentieth century photography. A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, he left behind a body of work that documents many of the most important aspects of American culture from the early 1940s up until his death in 2006, with a focus on race relations, poverty, Civil Rights, and urban life. In addition, Parks was also a celebrated composer, author, musician and filmmaker who interacted with many of the most prominent people of his era—from politicians and artists to celebrities and athletes. [1] Parks became the first black photographer to work at magazines like Life and Vogue, and the first black to work for the Office of War Information and the Farm Security Administration. [4] In 1960s, he helped break racial barriers in Hollywood as the first black director for a major studio. He co-produced, directed, wrote the screenplay, and composed the musical score for the film based on his 1963 novel, The Learning Tree. The film was later placed on the National Film Register by the Library of Congress. Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas on November 30, 1912, the son of Sarah Ross Parks and Andrew Jackson Parks. His father was a farmer who grew corn, beets, turnips, potatoes, collard greens, and tomatoes. They also had a few ducks, chickens, and hogs. He attended a segregated elementary school. The town was too small to afford a separate high school that would facilitate segregation of the secondary school social activities, and they were discouraged from developing any aspirations for higher education. Parks related in a documentary on his life that his teacher told him that his desire to go to college would be a waste of money. When he was eleven years old, three white boys threw him into the Marmaton River, knowing he couldn’t swim. He had the presence of mind to duck underwater so they wouldn’t see him make it to land. When his mother died, as he recalled in Voices in the Mirror, he spent the night alone with her coffin, an experience he fond both “terror-filled and strangely reassuring.” [5] After his mother’s death, Parks lived with a sister and her husband in St. Paul, Minnesota. His high school education was cut short when his brother in law threw him out of the house. Suddenly and unexpected on his own, Parks was forced to take a variety of temporary jobs that included playing piano in a brothel and mopping floors. As a busboy at the Hotel Lowry in St. Paul, he played his own songs on the piano there and joined a band that was on a tour after the leader heard him play. [5] Parks joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933 and returned to St. Paul in 1934, taking a job there as a dining car waiter and porter on the North Coast Limited. Parks was married and divorced three times. Parks married Sally Alvis in Minneapolis during 1933 and they divorced in 1961. In 1962, he married Elizabeth Campbell and they divorced in 1973. Parks met Genevieve Young since the publisher of his book The Learning Tree assigned her to be his editor. They became romantically involves at a time when they both were divorcing previous mates, and married in 1973, but the ended divorcing in 1979. For many years, Parks was sentimental involved with Gloria Vanderbilt, the railroad heiress and designer. [2] Their relationship evolved into a deep friendship that endured thought his lifetime. Parks was a father of four children: Gordon, Jr., David, Leslie, and Toni (Parks-Parsons). Parks became interested in photography while he was working on the railroad. He took his first pictured in Seattle, Washington, in 1937, at the end of his “run” from St. Paul. As he recalled for the Black Photographers Annual, “I bought my first camera in a pawn shop there. It was a Voigtlander Brilliant and cost $12.50. With such a brand name, I could not resist.” [5] The first picture that he took with his own camera was the Seattle’s waterfront. The photography clerk where...
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