Gordon Parks in Retrospect: Photographer, Writer, Filmmaker, Composer

Journal of Pan African Studies, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Gordon Parks in Retrospect: Photographer, Writer, Filmmaker, Composer


Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) 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 culture in America 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, and filmmaker who interacted with many of the most prominent people of his era--from politicians and artists to celebrities and athletes.

Gordon Parks Collection at Wichita State University

In 2014 the Ulrich Museum at Wichita State University in Kansas acquired a collection of fine art photographs taken by Kansas-born artist Gordon Parks (Wichita State University earlier obtained a large collection of papers, letters, documents, and manuscripts that belong to Parks). A native of Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks, the youngest of 15 children, spent his formative years in the Minneapolis area. As a young teen he left home and got a job playing piano at a brothel. He later worked as a waiter and a Pullman porter. On one train trip he bought a small camera for $12.50 and soon began doing fashion photography shoots for a chic Minneapolis boutique. After World War II, he moved to New York and he began a long career as a magazine photographer. His first assignments were for Vogue and then he became the first African American staff photographer for Life magazine where he took on many assignments dealing with the civil rights movement.

In a 2016 exhibition (Visual Justice: The Gordon Parks Photography Collection at WSU) works from his best-known photo essays for Life magazine, including Harlem Gang Leader, 1948, Freedom's Fearful Foe: Poverty, 1961; The Restraints: Open and Hidden (1956), The White Devil's Day is Almost Over (1963), and A Harlem Family (1968) was presented as a celebration of Parks' work as an artist and humanitarian.

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution holds folder(s) that may include exhibition announcements, newspaper and/or magazine clippings, press releases, brochures, reviews, invitations, illustrations, resumes, artist's statements, exhibition catalogs. The folder(s) do not circulate. Folder(s) available for use only at the holding library at the Anacostia Community Museum Library (http://library.si.edu/libraries/anacostia/) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum/ National Portrait Gallery Library (http://library.si.edu/libraries/american-art-portrait-gallery/).

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress "Gordon Parks Papers, 1946-1991" in the Manuscript Division in Washington, D.C. (7,900 items, 39 containers plus 4 oversize, 15.6 linear feet) consists of correspondence, speeches, writings, film scripts, notes, project proposals, contracts, production material, financial records, and other papers documenting Parks's career as a writer, photographer, and producer and director of films. Includes drafts of The Learning Tree (1963) and Flavio (1978) as well as film scripts and production materials for The Learning Tree (1969) and Parks's ballet, Martin, about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., filmed in 1989 for public television.

Gordon Parks Museum for Culture and Diversity

The mission of the Gordon Parks Museum for Culture and Diversity in Fort Scott, KS (gordonparkscenter@fortscott.edu; http://www.gordonparkscenter.org/) is to celebrate the life and work of Gordon Parks, internationally-known photographer, filmmaker, writer, and musician; and to use his remarkable life story to teach about artistic creativity, cultural awareness, and the role of diversity in our lives. …

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