Gordon Parks: Photographer, Musician, Writer, Director
Sometimes you come across an individual whose life was such an inspiration, you wonder why most people have never heard of them, or at least have never had the opportunity to learn of such a person’s accomplishments. The photographer Gordon Parks is such a person and I’m dedicating this blog post to him. If you’ve heard the name, then I’m pleased. If you know of his life and impact on photography, then I’m delighted. If you’ve never heard of Gordon Parks, allow me to educate you.
Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas in 1912. His parents were farmers, and Parks was forced to live his childhood under the shadow of segregation, as was the common way of life back then. He attended a segregated elementary school where blacks were banned from sports or social activities, and when he expressed a desire to attend college, his teacher simply dismissed the idea as “a waste of money”.
When Parks was 11 three white boys tossed him into a river knowing that he couldn’t swim. He survived. His mother died when he was 14, and he was sent to live with relatives, but pretty swiftly Parks found himself homeless. He found work at a gentlemen’s club, and furthered his education by reading books from the club’s library.
By the age of 25 Parks had found his way to Seattle, where he developed an interest in photography and bought his first camera. He began work as a portrait artist in Chicago, but won a scholarship allowing him to work under the photographer Roy Stryker. It was during this time that Parks created his most iconic image – a black woman with a mop in one hand, a brush in the other, standing in front of the American flag. He named this piece American Gothic, Washington, D.C., after the famous Grant Wood painting American Gothic. At first Stryker hated this photograph, calling it an indictment of America (which, in my opinion, it was) however he encouraged Parks to keep working with Ella Watson, the woman in the photograph. [Read more…]