During Black History Month, we reflect on the history of African Americans in the United States. African Americans have made an impact on a variety of subjects, including photography. Gordon Parks has undoubtedly influenced modern photography, capturing unseen elements of the 20th century.
“Gordon Parks, one of the greatest photographers of the twentieth century, was a humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice. He left behind an exceptional body of work that documents American life and culture from the early 1940s into the 2000s, with a focus on race relations, poverty, civil rights, and urban life” said The Gordon Parks Foundation in the biography portion of their website. “Parks was also a distinguished composer, author, and filmmaker who interacted with many of the leading people of his era—from politicians and artists to athletes and other celebrities.”
Through his photographs, he captured images from pre-World War II America; the fashion of the 1950s; the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s; prominent African American figures like Duke Ellington, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali, and a variety more notable moments from the 20th century. In every photo collection he had, Parks presented a different side of a story already heard, such as the gangs of Harlem in post-war America.
“These Harlem photographs reﬂect Parks’ complex ambitions. They present young men in quiet, contemplative moments and in the blurred heat of savage brawls” the Foundation said in a description for the collection called “Harlem Gang Leader, 1948.”
Parks also captured intimate moments of average people or notable figures living throughout America. From a working class family to a legendary jazz musician, Parks did not discriminate in the topics he captured.
“Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912, Parks was drawn to photography as a young man when he saw images of migrant workers in a magazine” said the biography in the website of the Foundation. Starting off his passion for photography based on the images of the working class, his early photography reflected such subjects. From a gas-station owner in Maine to a Washington D.C. janitor, Parks had a diverse collection of images from throughout the nation.
Parks was a Renaissance man, having a broad range of interests that went beyond photography. He made music, wrote poetry and plays, and directed films, such as Shaft in 1971, which was a pioneering film in the blaxploitation genre.
Parks would pass away in 2006 after leaving a bountiful collection of works to be remembered by. His photographs and other forms of art are shown in museums throughout the world, ensuring that he will continue to live on through his works.