06/05/12 - 0 Comments
Gordon Parks: 100 Years
Parks had a grueling upbringing before he became the American cultural figure he is known as today. He began his career by leaving his small-town Kansas home in 1925 at the age of 14, and bought his first camera from a pawnshop. Inspired by migrant workers he saw in magazines, Parks began capturing men and women on the streets of Chicago. In 1941, he had enough photos to fill an exhibition showcasing the struggles of the black neighborhoods on the city’s south side, gaining the attention of Roy Stryker, the man who captured the Great Depression’s most iconic images.
His move to the nation’s capital to work a fellowship with the Farm Security Administration was unsuccessful. As an African-American, Parks was disgusted with D.C.’s racism and made the move to our nation’s melting pot, New York City. Once there, legendary art director Alexander Liberman immediately commissioned Parks to work under him. This was the beginning of his transition from societal portrayals to the world of fashion, where he started shooting for Vogue. Even throughout his multiple other jobs, Parks never lost his interest in fashion photography.
His various other endeavors, however, are noteworthy. His previous photos of young Harlem gang leaders won him the position of staff photographer and writer for Life Magazine. Parks was the magazine’s first African-American staff writer, and his work there gained him well-deserved prominence. He started dating Gloria Vanderbilt, became the first African-American to dually produce and direct a major Hollywood production, The Learning Tree, in 1969, co-created Essence Magazine and essentially invented the genre of “blaxloitation” with his 1971 film, Shaft. In addition to being a photographer, director, writer and producer, he also experimented with music, though less successfully.
Parks is known as an African-American artist who overcame racism and succeeded in his life’s endeavors. Museum curator Maurice Berger identifies him as an “American cultural figure who came from poverty and prejudice and wound up as one of the seminal photographers of the mid and late 20th century.” He continues, “I think it’s time for a new generation to know who he is.”
The ICP is helping Berger showcase Parks’ talent with an unusual exhibit display. Rather then entering the building to see his work, the ICP is using its ideal location on Avenue of the Americas and 43rd Street to its advantage; the building will screen over 54 of his images on three large projection screens, in addition to a large mural of his work in its windows. That way, pedestrians and art-fanatics alike can glance and admire his work without interrupting their own lives.
Check out the exhibit and, even if you don’t have time, walk by the ICP building. Take a look here for a sneak peak of what you can expect at the exhibit.