Gordon Parks (American, 1912–2006) was a photographer, musician, writer, and filmmaker. He is best known for his photographic series for LIFE magazine, and as the director of the 1971 film Shaft. Born in Fort Scott, KS, Parks faced discrimination from an early age. He left home as a teenager, and first picked up a camera at the age of 25, after seeing images of migrant workers in a magazine. Parks bought his first camera at a pawnshop, and later found employment with the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which was then documenting the plight of the nation’s poor. In 1941, Parks won a photography fellowship for his images of the inner city.

When the FSA disbanded in 1943, Parks became a freelance photographer, working for fashion magazines and documenting humanitarian issues. In 1948, he produced a photo essay on the life of a Harlem gang leader, which earned him widespread acclaim and a job as the first African American staff photographer and writer for LIFE magazine. Parks would remain at the magazine for 20 years, focusing on themes of racism and poverty, as well as taking pictures of celebrities and politicians such as Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Barbara Streisand. His most famous images, such as Emerging Man (1952) and American Gothic, Washington, D.C. (1942), have become iconic images, and played an important role in the growing Civil Rights Movement.

In addition to his work as a photographer, Parks also became a successful filmmaker, becoming the first African American to direct a major Hollywood movie, The Learning Tree, which he also wrote. He then went on to direct Shaft, one of the most successful movies of 1971.

He continued working up until his death in 2006, winning numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts in 1988, and over 50 honorary doctorates. He died of cancer at the age of 93, in his home in New York City.

Timeline

1912
Born in Fort Scott, KS
1942
Farm Security Administration photographer, Washington, D.C.
1947
Published Flash Photography
1948
Published Camera Portraits: Techniques and Principles of Documentary Portraiture
1944–1949
Worked for Vogue doing freelance fashion photography
1955
Composed his first Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
1956
Piano concerto performed in Venice
1960
Photographer of the Year Award from The American Society of Magazine Photos
1963
Published The Learning Tree
1966
Received the Notable Book Award from the American Library Association
1967
Composed Tree Symphony
1968
Received Emmy Award for his documentary film Diary of a Harlem Family
1969
Film The Learning Tree opened in New York
1972
Awarded the Spingarn Award from the NAACP
1984
Inducted into NAACP Hall of Fame
1988
Received the National Medal of the Arts, presented by President Ronald Reagan
2002
Inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum in Oklahoma City, OK
Received the Jackie Robinson Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award
2006
Died in New York, NY

Exhibitions

2013
Gordon Parks: Centennial, Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, USA (solo)
2012–2013
Gordon Parks: A Harlem Family 1967, Studio Museum Harlem, New York, USA (solo)
Gordon Parks: 100 Years, International Center of Photography, New York, USA (solo)
Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta, USA (solo)
2012
Gordon Parks: 100 Moments, New York Public Library, New York, USA (solo)
Gordon Parks: At 100, Weinstein Gallery, Minneapolis, USA (solo)
Gordon Parks: Centennial, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, USA (solo)
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (solo)
2011
Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco, USA
Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, USA
2010
Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, USA
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, USA
2009
The Gallery at Hermes, New York, USA (solo)
Jenkins Johnson Gallery, New York, USA
International Center of Photography, New York, USA
2008
Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, USA (solo)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
2007
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford, USA (solo)
Flo Peters Gallery, Hamburg, Germany
Keith de Lellis Gallery, New York, USA
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, USA
ArteF Fine Art Photography Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland
Kunsthalle Wien, Wien, Austria
2006
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, USA (solo)
Encontros da Imagem, Braga, Portugal
Fondazione FORMA per la Fotografia, Milano, Italy
Galerie f 5,6, Munchen, Germany
2005
Lee Gallery, Boston, USA
International Center of Photography, New York, USA
Forum für Fotografie, Cologne, Germany
Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, USA
Galerie Stephen Hoffman, Munchen, Germany
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
2004
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA
International Center of Photography, New York, USA
2003
George Eastman House, Rochester, USA (solo)
2002
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, USA
2001
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, USA
2000
Michael C. Carlos Museum, Atlanta, USA
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, USA
California African American Museum, Los Angeles, USA
1999
Detroit Museum of Arts, Detroit, USA
Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, USA
1998
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul, USA
Museum of the City of New York, New York, USA