Celebrating creative black trailblazers for #BHM; meet…

Name:  Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks
Born: November 30, 1912 – March 7, 2006
Creative Discipline: Photographer, Musician, Writer, and Film Director
Known for: Best remembered for his photographic essays for Life magazine and as the director of the 1971 film, Shaft.
At the age of twenty-five, Parks was struck by photographs of migrant workers in a magazine and bought his first camera, a Voigtländer Brillant, for $12.50 at a Seattle, Washington pawnshop. The photography clerks who developed Parks' first roll of film, applauded his work and prompted him to seek a fashion assignment at a women's clothing store in St. Paul, Minnesota that was owned by Frank Murphy. Those photographs caught the eye of Marva Louis, the elegant wife of the heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis. She encouraged Parks to move to Chicago in 1940, where he began a portrait business and specialized in photographs of society women.
Working as a trainee under Roy Stryker, Parks created one of his best-known photographs, American Gothic, Washington, D.C., named after the iconic Grant Wood painting, American Gothic. The photograph shows a black woman, Ella Watson, who worked on the cleaning crew of the FSA building, standing stiffly in front of an American flag hanging on the wall, a broom in one hand and a mop in the background. Parks had been inspired to create the image after encountering racism repeatedly in restaurants and shops in the segregated capitol city.
In 1944, he moved to Harlem, and became a freelance fashion photographer for Vogue. Parks renewed his search for photography jobs in the fashion world. Despite racist attitudes of the day, the Vogue editor, Alexander Liberman, hired him to shoot a collection of evening gowns.
A 1948 photographic essay on a young Harlem gang leader won Parks a staff job as a photographer and writer with Life magazine. For twenty years, Parks produced photographs on subjects including fashion, sports, Broadway, poverty, and racial segregation, as well as portraits of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Muhammad Ali, and Barbra Streisand.
In the 1950s, Parks worked as a consultant on various Hollywood productions. In 1971, Parks directed Shaft, a detective film starring Richard Roundtree that became a major hit. In 2000, as a homage, he had a cameo appearance in the Shaft sequel that starred Samuel L. Jackson in the title role as the namesake and nephew of the original John Shaft. 
Factoid:  His first job was as a piano player in a brothel when he was a teenager.

Article by Lucy G / 12th October 2012


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#BHM Gordon Parks