Gordon Parks (Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks), 1912–2006, African-American photographer, filmmaker, writer, and composer, b. Fort Scott, Kans. Parks purchased his first camera in 1938 and became a photographer for the Farm Security Administration in 1942. A largely self-taught trailblazer, he was the first African American photographer at Vogue (1944–49) and on the staff at Life (1948–72). A powerful photojournalist, he specialized in hard-hitting studies of poverty and urban black life, but he also produced elegant fashion photography and arresting portraiture. From the 1960s on he wrote novels, memoirs, poems, and screenplays, and in 1964 directed the first of seven motion pictures. Parks was the first black to write, produce, direct, and score a major Hollywood film—The Learning Tree (1969), adapted from his 1963 coming-of-age novel. His blockbuster Shaft (1971) marked the debut of the African-American action hero. Parks also composed orchestral works and a ballet (1989), and was cofounder and editorial director (1970–73) of Essence magazine.
See his memoirs (1966, 1979, 1990, 1997, 2005).