“There's another horizon out there, one more horizon that you have to make for yourself and let other people discover it, and someone else will take it further on, you know.” – Gordon Parks
Born on this date in a small Kansas community, Parks was drawn to photography after seeing a series of heart-rending images featuring Dust Bowl migrant workers. At the age of 25 he bought his first camera for $12.50 and embarked on a career that would last for the next 70 years (until his death in 2006).
His first big break came when he did fashion shots for a women’s clothing store in St. Paul, MN. One of the people who saw and admired his work was Marva Louis, wife of heavyweight champion Joe Louis. She encouraged him to move to Chicago and open a portrait studio there. He earned renown for his photographs of society women, but on the side he took an extensive and award-winning collection of photos portraying “life on the streets” and life experiences of African Americans.
A 1948 photographic essay on a young gang leader won Parks a staff job as a photographer and writer with Life magazine. He worked there 20 years as both a photographer and writer on subjects ranging from fashion, sports and Broadway to poverty and racial segregation. His portraits of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Muhammad Ali and Barbra Streisand cemented his reputation as "one of the most provocative and celebrated photojournalists in the United States."
Gordon Parks and two of his award-winning photos
The multi-talented Parks also was a novelist, poet and screenwriter and then branched into film production before becoming the first major Black director in the late 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. But, photography was always his first love and topics for his camera were as varied as his tastes.
“The subject matter,” he said modestly, “is what matters, and is so much more important than the photographer.”
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