Gordon Parks, born on 30th November 1912 was an American musician, photographer, writer, and film director. He is best known for directing Shaft, a 1971 film; and a photo essay for Life magazine. The multi-talented man was born in Kansas to Jackson and Sarah. Because of racial discrimination, Parks went to an elementary school which was segregated. The dark skinned people were not allowed to participate in any social or sports activities. Also, they weren’t allowed to develop any aspiration to attend college or university. His mother died when he was fourteen years old and he had to find his own way to survive when his relatives turned him down. In 1929, for a short period he started working at a club in Minnesota where he got the opportunity to read books from its library. After the Wall Street Crash, he went to Chicago since the club had to close down.
When Parks was 25 years old, he bought a camera for himself. The clerks at a photograph developing store praised Park’s work and guided him to contact St. Paul Minnesota’s clothing shop for a photographic assignment. Looking at what Park did for Frank Murphy’s shop, Joe Louis’s wife Marva Louis was impressed by Park’s photos and encouraged him in 1949 to move to Chicago where he became a portraitist and captured photos of society females. For the next few years, Parks changed jobs and developed a portfolio of his work. He started to photographically chronicle the events in ghetto of blacks in South Chicago. The Farm Security Administration presented him with a fellowship after an exhibition of his photos in 1941.
When Gordon Parks was Roy Stryker‘s trainee, he produced one of his most renowned images, American Gothic. The photo shows Ella Watson standing with a broom and mop in hand in front of a wall with American flag on it. His inspiration was racism, that he faced continually in shops and restaurants in Washington, D.C. Stryker saw the photo as an expression to condemn America and Parks could face a penalty for this. However, he encouraged Parks to keep working with the same model.
Later on, Parks began working in the Office of War Information in the capital city as a correspondent, however due to the prejudice practiced there, in 1944 he resigned. He then moved to Harlem where he did freelance photography for Vogue. Later he began working on Standard Oil Photography Project, New Jersey. There he was given assignments to photograph industrial hubs and small towns. During this time he created some very powerful works, such as Grease Plant Worker, 1946; Ferry Commuters, 1946; Dinner Time at Mr. Hercules Brown’s Home, 1944; and Car Loaded on Highway with Furniture, 1945.
Despite racism in peoples’ attitudes at the time, Alexander Liberman, editor at Vogue, hired Gordon Parks to photograph a evening dress collection. During this time, he developed a style of photographing models in movement. He also published two books, Camera Portraits: Techniques and Principles of Documentary Portraiture, 1948; and Flash Photography, 1947.
Life hired Parks as a writer and photographer after he wrote an amazing photo essay about a young leader of a gang in Harlem. For two decades, Parks worked on subjects, like poverty, racism, segregation, Broadway, sports and fashion. He also shot portraits of Muhammad Ali, Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, Barbra Streisand.
He won many awards from 1941 to 2008 for his photography.