Gordon Parks

20 Jul

Gordon Parks at the March on Washington, 1963

This year marks the centennial of Gordon Parks’ birth. Parks was a prolific artist and worked as a photographer, musician, writer, and filmmaker. The Gordon Parks Foundation is hosting several events and exhibits to commemorate his life and work. Parks was born in Fort Scott, KS and went on to make his mark in several fields. He began working as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington D.C. where he produced a now iconic image “American Gothic,” featuring an African American woman, Ella Watson who worked on a cleaning crew at the FSA. The Film & Media Archive owns a print of this work along with correspondence from Parks to filmmaker Henry Hampton.

Parks went on to work for Life magazine where he did documentary photo essays, including “The Restraints: Open and Hidden,” which explored the world of segregation in color photographs. Parks chose to focus on the everyday life of an African American family in Mobile, Alabama. In an essay in the New York Times which features images from this series the writer, Maurice Berger observes,

As the holistic depiction of black life in the rural South in the “Segregation Series” demonstrates, the aspirations, responsibilities, vocations, and rituals of the Thornton family were no different from those of white Americans. Yet, these religious and law-abiding people, and others like them, were persecuted. It is this incongruity, made visible by Mr. Parks’s photographs, which may have appealed to the empathy and fairness of some of Life’s white readers. It challenged them to reconsider both their attitudes about segregation and the stereotypes they assigned to people who were little different from them.

“American Gothic” by Gordon Parks

The Film & Media Archive hold three filmed interviews with Gordon Parks. He was filmed for two Blackside productions, Eyes on the Prize and Malcolm X: Make It Plain, and for one film in the William Miles Collection, I Remember Harlem. For Parks’ interview for Malcolm X: Make It Plain, he described how he met and interviewed Malcolm X when he was working as a reporter and photographer at Life magazine. This meeting led to a friendship, and Malcolm eventually asked Parks to be godfather to his daughter, Qubilah. A typescript page from this interview transcript can be seen below.

Typescript page with annotations from the “Interview with Gordon Parks” for “Malcolm: Make It Plain.”

For more information on any of these interviews, please contact the Film and Media Archive.


3 Responses to “Gordon Parks”

  1. Charles Micheaux July 21, 2012 at 2:56 am #

    Gordon Parks lead a full life rich in grace, humility, observation and kindness and so much wisdom. I never met a man more elegant than this fine gentleman we all know as Gordon Parks.

    • wufilmarchive July 25, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

      Thanks for your comment. Your description of Gordon Parks is lovely and true. He did embody elegance, creative power, and much more.

  2. Charles Micheaux June 13, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    Thank You!

    Every good wish…

    Charles Micheaux
    Atlanta, Georgia

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