Friday, November 14, 2014

Gordon Parks a Renaissance Man

In 2005, the year before his death, Gordon Parks published his ninth book of poetry, Eyes with Winged Thoughts: Poems and Photographs. For the famed photographer it joined his other literary works that included novels, autobiographies, and non-fiction works about photography and film making. His best known book is the semi-autobiographical, The Learning Tree which has been favorably compared to Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mocking Bird.

Six years after its publication The Learning Tree was released as Hollywood movie for which Park not only wrote the screenplay and the musical score but also directed.  This saw him become first African American to direct a major studio film. Two years later the release of the hit movie, Shaft confirmed Park’s talent as a director.

Apart from his film scores Parks composed classical, blues, and popular music and in 1981 had an exhibition of abstract oil paintings. But his lasting legacy will be his photography.

From his first camera purchased at a Seattle pawn shop in 1938, the self taught photographer went on to become one of Time/Life Magazine’s celebrated staff photographers. His reputation as a humanitarian photojournalist came from his racism, poverty and black urban life subject matter; an artist with an eye for elegance came from his Paris fashion work and his celebrity and political portraiture.

Forced to abandon his formal education at 14, Parks went on to receive 40 honorary doctorates from colleges and universities in the United States and England. One of which he dedicated to a former high school teacher who had advised him and his fellow students not to waste their parents' money on college because they would end up as porters or maids anyway.

Varginia’s Farlin Museum is currently showing, until 21st of December, Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument, which was Parks' first major photo-essay for Life magazine. On the 29 of November Atlanta’s High Museum of art will present Gordon Parks: Segregation Story which will remain on show until the middle of next year.

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