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  History of photography

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History of photography
 
 
 
Gordon Parks
 
 
Gordon Roger Alexander Buchannan Parks (November 30, 1912 – March 7, 2006) was a groundbreaking American photographer, musician, poet, novelist, journalist, activist and film director. He is best remembered for his photo essays for Life magazine and as the director of the 1971 film Shaft.
The youngest of 15 children, Parks was born into a poor, black family in segregated Fort Scott, Kansas. His mother, a staunch Methodist, was the main influence on his life, refusing to allow her son to justify failure with the excuse that he had been born black, and instilling in him self-confidence, ambition and a capacity for hard work.
When Parks was 15 years old, as said in his book "A Hungry Heart", his mother died. Soon after her death his father sent him to live with his married sister in St. Paul, Minnesota. He and his brother-in-law did not get along; he only lived there for a few weeks until he got in a fight with his brother-in-law, getting him evicted. He was forced to sleep in trolley cars, loiter in pool halls, and play piano in a brothel. Parks also worked as a factotum in a whites-only club and as a waiter on a luxury train.
Parks later commented: “I had a mother who would not allow me to complain about not accomplishing something because I was black. Her attitude was, ‘If a white boy can do it, then you can do it, too—and do it better, or don’t come home.’”
In 1938, Parks was struck by photographs of migrant workers in a magazine and bought his first camera, a Voigtländer Brilliant, for $12.50 at a pawnshop.The photo clerks who developed Parks' first roll of film, applauded his work and prompted him to get a fashion assignment at Frank Murphy's women's clothing store in St. Paul. Parks double exposed every frame except one, but that shot caught the eye of Marva Louis, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis' elegant wife. She encouraged Parks to move to Chicago, where he began a portrait business for society women.
Over the next few years, Parks moved from job to job, developing a freelance portrait and fashion photographer sideline. He began to chronicle the city's South Side black ghetto and in 1941 an exhibition of those photographs won Parks a photography fellowship with the Farm Security Administration. Working as a trainee under Roy Stryker, Parks created one of his best known photographs, American Gothic, Washington, D.C. (named after Grant Wood painting American Gothic). The photo shows a black woman, Ella Watson, who worked on the cleaning crew for the FSA building, standing stiffly in front of an American flag, a broom in one hand and a mop in the background. Parks had been inspired to create the picture after encountering repeated racism in restaurants and shops, following his arrival in Washington, D.C.. Upon viewing it, Stryker said that it was an indictment of America, and could get all of his photographers fired; he urged Parks to keep working with Watson, however, leading to a series of photos of her daily life. Parks, himself, said later that the first image was unsubtle and overdone; nonetheless, other commentators have argued that it drew strength from its polemical nature and its duality of victim and survivor, and so has affected far more people than his subsequent pictures of Watson.
After the FSA disbanded, Parks remained in Washington as a correspondent with the Office of War Information, but became disgusted with the prejudice he encountered and resigned in 1944. Moving to Harlem, Parks became a freelance fashion photographer for Vogue. He later followed Stryker to the Standard Oil (New Jersey) Photography Project, which assigned photographers to take pictures of small towns and industrial centers. Parks's most striking of the period included Dinner Time at Mr. Hercules Brown's Home, Somerville, Maine (1944); Grease Plant Worker, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1946); Car Loaded with Furniture on Highway (1945); and Ferry Commuters, Staten Island, N.Y. (1946).
Parks renewed his search for photography jobs in the fashion world. Despite racist attitudes of the day, Vogue editor Alexander Liberman hired him to shoot a collection of evening gowns. Parks photographed fashion for Vogue for the next few years. During this time, he published his first two books, Flash Photography (1947) and Camera Portraits: Techniques and Principles of Documentary Portraiture (1948).
A 1948 photo essay on a young Harlem gang leader won Parks a staff job as a photographer and writer with Life magazine. For 20 years, Parks produced photos on subjects including fashion, sports, Broadway, poverty, racial segregation, and portraits of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Muhammad Ali, and Barbra Streisand. His 1961 photo essay on a poor Brazilian boy named Flavio da Silva, who was dying from bronchial pneumonia and malnutrition, brought donations that saved the boy's life and paid for a new home for his family.
In the 1950s, Parks worked as a consultant on various Hollywood productions and later directed a series of documentaries commissioned by National Educational Television on black ghetto life.
Beginning in the 1960s, Parks branched out into literature, writing The Learning Tree (1963), several books of poetry illustrated with his own photographs, and three volumes of memoirs.
In 1969, Parks became Hollywood's first major black director with his film adaptation of his autobiographical novel, The Learning Tree. Parks also composed the film's musical score and wrote the screenplay.
Shaft, Parks' 1971 detective film starring Richard Roundtree, became a major hit that spawned a series of blaxploitation films. Parks' feel for settings was confirmed by Shaft, with its portrayal of the super-cool leather-clad black private detective hired to find the kidnapped daughter of a Harlem racketeer.
Parks also directed the 1972 sequel, Shaft's Big Score in which the protagonist finds himself caught in the middle of rival gangs of racketeers. Parks's other directorial credits included The Super Cops (1974), and Leadbelly (1976), a biopic of the blues musician Huddie Ledbetter.
In the 1980s, he made several films for television and composed the music and libretto for Martin, a ballet tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., which premiered in Washington, D.C. in 1989 and was screened on national television on King's birthday in 1990.
In 1981, Parks turned to fiction with Shannon, a novel about Irish immigrants fighting their way up the social ladder in turbulent early 20th-century New York. Parks' writing accomplishments include novels, poetry, autobiography, and non-fiction including photographic instructional manuals and filmmaking books. Parks also wrote a poem called "The Funeral".
A self-taught pianist, Parks composed Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1953) and Tree Symphony (1967). In 1989, he composed and choreographed Martin, a ballet dedicated to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Parks also performed as a jazz pianist.
Parks was also a campaigner for civil rights; subject of film and print profiles, notably Half Past Autumn in 2000; and had a gallery exhibit of his photo-related, abstract oil paintings in 1981.
Parks was married and divorced three times. His wives were Sally Alvis, Elizabeth Campbell and Genevieve Young, a book editor whom he married in 1973 and divorced in 1979. For many years, Parks was romantically involved with the railroad heiress and designer Gloria Vanderbilt.
Parks lived at the fashionable New York address of 860 United Nations Plaza on the east side.
Gordon Parks died of cancer at the age of 93.
 
 
 

Housewife, Washington, D.C. 1942

 


American Gothic, 1942


Fashion



Red Jackson and Herbie Levy Study Wounds of Slain Gang Member Maurice Gaines, 1948


Paris Fashion, 1950

 


Ingrid Bergman at Stromboli, 1949


James Galanos Fashion, circa 1967


Flavio da Silva Rio de Janeiro, 1961


Spanish Fashion, 1950


Beggar Woman and Child, Estoril, Portugal, 1950


Death Room, Fort Scott, 1949


The Fontanelle Family
Bessie and Kenneth, Little Richard, Norman Jr. and Ellen
at the Poverty Board in New York City, 1967




Ethel Shariff in Chicago, 1963


A Memory, 1993


Dinner Time at Mr. Hercules Brown's Home
Somerville, Maine, 1944


Department Store
Birmingham, Alabama, 1956


Malcolm X Addressing Black Muslim Family Rally in Chicago, 1963


Gloria Vanderbilt
New York, 1960
 


Toward Infinity, 1995

 


Muhammad Ali, 1970

 


Front Cover, A Star For Noon

 


Ella Watson, right, and her adopted daughter.

 


Ella Watson's adopted daughter.

 


Reverend Gassaway stands in a bowl of sacred water banked with the roses that he blesses and gives to celebrants.

 


Ella Watson receiving a blessing and anointment from Reverend Smith; a second exposure depicts another celebrant...

 


Langston Hughes, Chicago
1941

 


Ella Watson and her Grandchildren
1942

 


Bill Walker
1943

 


Beggar Man, Paris
1950

 


Drugstore Cowboys, Blind River, Ontario
1955


Chain Gang, Alabama
1956

 


Still Life, New York
1958

 


Muhammad Ali in Training, Miami, Florida
1966

 


Norman Jr. Reading in Bed
1967

 


Bangkok
c. 1967

 


The Bridge
1995

 
 
 

 
 
 
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