Photographers You Should Study

Gordon Parks: Shaping Vision with Social Commentary

American Photographer

Gordon Parks

Quotes | Videos | Books

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Gordon Parks – Wikipedia

Gordon Parks [1912 – 2006] was a groundbreaking American photographer, musician, writer, and film director celebrated for his profound contributions to the civil rights movement through his compelling visual narratives.

Born into poverty in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks was self-taught, using his camera to capture the essence of African American life and the broader social and economic issues of the 20th century.

As the first African American staff photographer for Life magazine, he produced some of the era’s most iconic images, including poignant depictions of racism, poverty, and urban life.

Parks’ multifaceted career also included directing the film “Shaft,” adding to his legacy as a versatile and influential figure in American culture.

Read the full Biography below.


Photography Quotes From Gordon Parks

If you don't have anything to say, your photographers, including Bert Stern, are not going to say anything.
The subject matter is so much more important than the photographer, Bert Stern.
📸 Did you know?
Parks was also a prolific author, writing novels, poetry, and memoirs, including “The Learning Tree,” which he adapted into the aforementioned film.

Videos about Gordon Parks

📸 Did you know?
In 1989, he created a ballet, “Martin,” about Martin Luther King Jr., which premiered in Washington, D.C., showcasing his diverse artistic talents beyond photography and film.

Books by Gordon Parks

A group of people standing outside a Bert Stern store.
A man singing into a microphone, photographed by Bert Stern.
A man smoking a leaf, captured by Bert Stern.
Bert Stern-inspired American gothic audiobook cover art.
📸 Did you know?
Gordon Parks was a self-taught pianist and composer who once worked as a brothel pianist before finding his calling in photography.

Biography of Gordon Parks

Early Life and the Spark of Creativity

Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks was born on November 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kansas, the youngest of fifteen children in a poor, African-American farming family. 

Facing racial discrimination from an early age, Parks was determined to fight against injustice through his creativity. 

After his mother’s death when he was 14, Parks moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, to live with a sister, a period marked by hardship and struggle that would shape his perspective and ambitions.

Self-Taught Photographer with a Vision

Parks bought his first camera at the age of 25 from a pawnshop. 

His initial foray into photography was as a fashion photographer in Chicago, where he honed his craft and began to develop a style characterized by a deep empathy for his subjects and a desire to explore social issues. 

During this time, he embarked on a photographic essay on the life of a young boy in the slums, which won him a fellowship with the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington, D.C.

FSA and the Move to Documentary Photography

At the FSA, Parks created one of his most famous works, “American Gothic, Washington, D.C.,” portraying African-American charwoman Ella Watson in a powerful commentary on racism and poverty. 

His work with the FSA marked the beginning of his lifelong commitment to using photography as a tool for social change, documenting the lives of African Americans and the nuances of racial and economic struggles in the United States.

Life Magazine and Breaking Barriers

Parks became the first African American photographer for Life magazine in 1948, where he worked for two decades. 

During his tenure, he produced a series of photo essays on subjects ranging from gang violence and segregation to fashion and sports. 

His intimate portrayal of the civil rights movement and its leaders, poverty in America, and urban life contributed significantly to the national conversation on race and equality.

Filmmaking, Writing, and Renaissance Man

Parks’s creativity was not confined to photography; he was a true renaissance man. 

He wrote several memoirs, novels, and poetry, with his novel “The Learning Tree” being adapted into the first major Hollywood film directed by an African American. 

Parks also directed the groundbreaking film “Shaft” (1971), which helped define the blaxploitation era in cinema.

Exhibitions, Awards, and Legacy

Parks’s work has been exhibited worldwide, and he received numerous awards and honors, including the National Medal of Arts. 

He was also a co-founder of Essence magazine and continued to influence the world of photography, film, and beyond until his death.

Later Years and Continued Influence

Until his death on March 7, 2006, Parks remained active in the arts and continued to inspire with his commitment to justice and beauty. 

His legacy is that of a pioneering artist who used his lens, pen, and director’s chair to challenge and redefine narratives around race, poverty, and the African-American experience.

Gordon Parks’s life and work offer an inspiring testament to the power of art to break barriers and enact social change. 

Through his diverse body of work, Parks not only documented American life in all its forms but also played a crucial role in the civil rights movement, advocating for justice and equality. 

Today, he is remembered as one of the most significant photographers of the 20th century and a trailblazing filmmaker and writer whose impact extends far beyond the realms of photography.


Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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