GORDON PARKS WITH SOME OF HIS FAVOURITE TOYS
“I’m in a sense sort of a rare bird,” Mr. Parks said in an interview in The New York Times in 1997. “I suppose a lot of it depended on my determination not to let discrimination stop me.” He never forgot that one of his teachers told her students not to waste their parents’ money on college because they would end up as porters or maids anyway. He dedicated one honorary degree to her because he had been so eager to prove her wrong.
“I had a great sense of curiosity and a great sense of just wanting to achieve,” he said. “I just forgot I was black and walked in and asked for a job and tried to be prepared for what I was asking for.” (+)
This is the last post of the Gordon Parks series to commemorate the centennial of his birth. I hope you enjoyed the posts!
Of course I could only scratch the surface, there are so much more pictures and stories that would’ve been worth posting: his crime pictures, the Fontenelle Family essay, photos shot in Europe, the Harlem Riot series, more of his wonderful portraits and fashion photographs, …
If you want to see more of his work there are several possibilites:
Maybe you can understand now why he’s one of my favourite photographers: not only the amazing quality of his pictures but also the way he lived his life make me take my hat off to him.
HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY MR. PARKS, MAY YOUR SOUL REST IN PEACE!
Just as his fame as a magazine photographer was reaching its peak in the early 1970s, he stopped being mainly a photographer and became a filmmaker. Mr. Parks published five autobiographies, although there were few books that showed the depth and breadth of his work. Outside of the photo essay “Flavio” it is mainly Mr. Parks’s individual images that are known. When he edited his work for exhibits or books he usually picked just a few of the best images from a few stories. (+)
I presented lots of his work in the last days, e.g. “The Segregation Story”, some of his amazing Portraits, or “Flavio” - the essay about a Brazilian family living in extreme poverty. I also published posts about current Gordon Parks exhibitions and provided lots of information on this stunning artist.
In this post I want to present to you his more unknown work - I randomly picked four individual pictures (sources: +, +), without providing any additional background information, just to indicate the broad range of Parks’ photographic genius, and also because I’m overwhelmed by the amazing output in terms of quality AND quantity - It’s so hard to decide which photos to publish and which not, my head’s already smoking…
One last Gordon Parks post is missing, stay tuned…
After finishing his fellowship for the Farm Security Administration, Parks became disgusted with the rampant racism he saw in Washington and moved to New York City, where legendary art director Alexander Liberman tapped him to shoot for Vogue.
“It was a good time, a joyous passage blossoming with beautiful clothes and vibrantly lovely models of that era. And with an undying love for both, I pusued them in Paris and other worldly bastions of haute couture for decades to come.” (Gordon Parks about his Vogue time; from the book “Half Past Autumn”)
Not long after that, his photos of a young Harlem gang leader won him a plum spot as a staff photographer and writer for Life magazine. Parks spent the next twenty years at Life but never abandoned his interest in fashion, co-founding and acting as editorial director for Essence Magazine in 1970. (+)
Here’s another beautiful shot in black & white, and find even more on the LENS blog.
© Gordon Parks, 1960, San Francisco
“There are 2 rules in life. Number 1: Never quit. Number 2: Never forget rule number 1.”
I saw above portrait so many times while researching for the Gordon Parks series on my blog, but always unattributed. Thanks to “Image Search” I could attribute this wonderful portrait to Fern Logan.
Fern Logan’s collection of photographic portraits documents the emergence of the African American artist into mainstream American art. Her book “The Artist Portrait Series - Images of Contemporary African American Artists” captures sixty significant artists from the late twentieth century. Each rich duotone portrait is accompanied by Logan’s commentary on the artist.
Logan began her career as a nature, landscape, and architectural photographer, but in 1983, resolving to put the human figure into her repertoire, she created the photodocumentary “The Artist Portrait Series”. Her philosophy of art as an educational tool prompted her to document the accomplishments of such highly skilled visual artists as Gordon Parks, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Roy DeCarava, and Romare Bearden. Logan expanded the project to promote recognition for prominent black artists in theater, television, film, music, dance, and literature, including Alvin Ailey, Maya Angelou, and Adolph Caesar. Her subjects include well-known artists as well as those who were emerging at the time they were photographed. (+)
Visit Fern Logan’s website for more pictures.
Publishers Weekly wrote in 2001:
When photographer Fern Logan was an art student in the 1970s, African-American artists were represented in academia even less well than today. To rectify this blanket omission, Logan embarked in the mid-’80s on “The Artist Portrait Series: Images of Contemporary African American Artists”.
In her introduction, Deborah Willis, curator at the Center for African American History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution, writes, “Logan’s portraits ‘unfix’ the ‘shadows’ of photographic construction to reveal (…) the self-construction of the sitter.”
Gordon Parks took these pictures on assignment for a September 1956 Life magazine photo-essay, “The Restraints: Open and Hidden,” which documented the everyday activities and rituals of one extended black family living in the rural South under Jim Crow segregation.
While 20 photographs were eventually published in Life, the bulk of Mr. Parks’s work from that shoot was thought to have been lost. That is, until this spring, when the Gordon Parks Foundation discovered more than 70 color transparencies at the bottom of an old storage box, wrapped in paper and masking tape and marked, “Segregation Series.”
These quiet, compelling photographs elicit a reaction that Mr. Parks believed was critical to the undoing of racial prejudice: empathy. Throughout his career, he endeavored to help viewers, white and black, to understand and share the feelings of others.
More than anything, the “Segregation Series” challenged the abiding myth of racism: that the races are innately unequal, a delusion that allows one group to declare its superiority over another by capriciously ascribing to it negative traits, abnormalities or pathologies. (read more)
A number of color prints were recently discovered in a storage box at the Gordon Parks Foundation. They are now on exhibition for the first time. The photographs were taken by Parks for a 1956 LIFE Magazine photo-essay, “The Restraints: Open and Hidden.” (+)
You can find the original LIFE article here.
Not all of the “Segregation” photographs are as prosaic as the Thornton portrait (picture #1). Some are ominous and intense, providing stark evidence of the unjustness of segregation and the ways it endangered democracy. (…) But most of the images are optimistic and affirmative, like the portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Thornton. They focus on the family’s everyday activities, and their resolve to get on with their lives as normally as possible, in spite of an environment that restricts and intimidates.
It is the very fullness, even ordinariness, of the lives of the Thornton family that most effectively contests these notions of difference, which had flourished in a popular culture that offered no more than an incomplete or distorted view of African-American life.
The complete and positive images also helped to bolster the morale of blacks in the face of withering prejudice. This is one reason Mr. Parks’s quiet portrait of the Thorntons is an important civil rights image, demonstrating as it does the historic role of photography in black culture. (read more)
GORDON PARKS “COLLECTED WORKS”
Find these and other great pictures in a five-volume book published by Steidl. The book is the most extensive publication to document Gordon Parks’s legendary career. Read an amazing article with more wonderful color photographs of this era on the Lens blog.
CELEBRITIES PHOTOGRAPHED BY GORDON PARKS
Gordon Parks spent the majority of his professional career at the crossroads of the glamorous and the ghetto – two extremes the noted photographer knew well. He was hired by Life magazine after he published a series on a gang leader in Harlem, but he was also an accomplished fashion photographer and had already worked as a photographer for Vogue, where he learned the secrets of aestheticism. (+, +)
His portraits of celebrities are a wonderful example for that: Muhammad Ali, Alberto Giacometti, Ingrid Bergman and many more can call themselves lucky for being shot by Mr. Parks. One of my favourite portraits of Muhammad Ali is this one, and I also love his shots of Malcolm X.
#1: Twelve-year-old Flavio da Silva feeding his brother, Zacarias
#2: Flavio after Asthma attack
#3: Flavio’s brother Mario, crying after being bitten by a dog
#4: Flavio amuses smaller brothers and sisters
In 1961, Parks did a series for LIFE on the slums of Brazil and found himself in what he describes as “dead center in the worst poverty I have ever encountered—in the favela of Catacumba, a desolate mountainside outside of Rio de Janeiro.” In true Parks fashion, instead of giving a broad view without much depth, he focused on an individual affected by the larger story.
At just 12, Flavio da Silva was already dying, from tuberculosis. Flavio lived with his parents, brothers and sisters in a one-room shack. The images Parks created while living with the da Silva family illustrated the family’s reliance on their dying son. “What Flavio cared most about,” says Parks, “was that his younger brothers and sisters were taken care of. It was very noble of him. I definitely learned more from Flavio about character than Flavio learned from me.”
“I am not afraid of death.” he explained earnestly to Parks. “But what will they do after?”
After the story ran, LIFE readers contributed money to help with Flavio’s medical care. Parks says that people sent in roughly $30,000 to bring Flavio to America. “I went back to Brazil and the doctors told me that Flavio would die on my hands if I took him to America. I took him anyway and after living there for two years, he was cured.” When Flavio went back home to Brazil, Parks bought Flavio’s father a new truck with the money everyone had sent in, and then LIFE donated $25,000 so that Parks could help the family buy a new home.
When Parks checked on Flavio 15 years later, he found a hard-working family man—with an almost obsessive desire to return to the United States. Flavio believed that he was still remembered and that he still had friends who would help him make something more of himself.
Today, the obsession has faded. (…) Due to personal problems in his life, Flavio lost touch with Parks in 1987, but was reunited with the now 84-year-old photographer by telephone in 1996. They talked about Flavio’s family and his hard times and about the chances of getting together again.
“I’ll never forget you,” Flavio told the man who made him famous.
Parks went back to Brazil to visit Flavio for an special HBO was doing on the photographer in November 2000. Flavio has two young sons, a daughter and a grandchild. “Flavio’s very gracious,” Parks concludes. “He doesn’t beg for help or anything. He gave me a beautiful Bible when I went back to see him. He wants me to keep it for the rest of my life, which I will.” (+, +)
O CRUZEIRO vs LIFE MAGAZINE
Flavio was subjected to some kind of propaganda battle: On initial publication of Parks’s photographs, the Brazilian magazine “O Cruzeiro”, recognizing the documentation of Brazilian poverty as politically laden, “rushed one of its own photographers to New York City to do a similar story on a Puerto Rican family in the Wall Street district, and it depicted a sleeping child with cockroaches crawling over its face, and another child crying from hunger”.
TIME, sibling to LIFE in Luce’s media empire, quickly encountered and revealed the O Cruzeiro story as fabrication. Parks remarks the irony that “O Cruzeiro had felt it necessary to go to such lengths. If it had gone to New York’s Harlem or Chicago’s South Side, they could have found a story as genuinely tragic as the one of the Catacumba”. (source)
(source: Brazilian magazine “O Cruzeiro” / Oct. 7, 1961)
You can find more scans of the “O Cruzeiro” story here.
The quotes come from the documentary “Half Past Autumn: The Life and Work of Gordon Parks”. Read here a pdf excerpt from Park’s autobiography about meeting Flavio (thanks to Iconic Photos).
search by category: