As a multifaceted creative artist, Parks stacked up firsts again and again in a long career that has been seeing numerous tributes over the past year. 2012 was the 100th anniversary of his birth, and exhibits are still underway.
Also, “Gordon Parks: A Harlem Family 1967 is running at the Studio Museum in Harlem until March 10, 2013. Curated by Thelma Golden and Lauren Haynes the show highlights the Fontanelle family portrayed in a 1968 Life Magazine story, reported by Parks. The
Noted curator Deborah Willis explores the fascinating story of Ella Watson, the cleaning lady in “American Gothic” in the � Moments” exhibit. Parks did not just pose her for one photograph: he visited her home, making images of her adopted daughter and grandson. These moving images reveal her warmth and humanity, as well as her elegance and spiritual strivings as she attends a gospel church service. The context supplied for what is one of Parks’ most celebrated images, reminds us how a single image can be read in a multitude of ways. Watson, exhausted and dour in one image, is radiant and confident in another.
Most people probably remember Parks, who died in 2006, best as the director of such acclaimed films as Shaft, Superfly, The Learning Tree, Solomon Northup’s Journey, and Leadbelly. He also, however, shot major fashion work for Vogue and has an enormous documentary legacy from the New Deal, twenty years on staff at Life magazine and many projects afterward. In his early years, he was a pioneer African American photographer and covered the Civil Rights movement and its leaders at a time when the media had little insight into community dynamics.
Although Parks never graduated from high school or college, he lived an extraordinarily full life, propelled by a unquenchable love of life. At age 92 he wrote “Driven by an insatiable hunger, I still search for those things that inspire me —- beautiful imagery, music and literature…-dreams grow older with the seasons, but autumn’s dreams refuse to age.” And his centennial legacy shows that those dreams remain fresh to new generations.
Above, Gordon Parks- middle, “American Gothic” (1942, FSA)- and below, “Red Jackson” (Harlem, 1948, courtesy the Gordon Parks Foundation).