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Bacon!
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9,190 Posts
That's too bad. It's funny how I knew the pictures but not the name behind them. Great photography. Here's the one I recognized right off.
 

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Premium Member
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Great story on how he became a photographer.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Parks loved to tell the story about how he got his start by boldly walking into an exclusive clothing store called Frank Murphy's and asking if someone was needed to take photos of the models hired for a runway show. He didn't mention that he didn't own a camera or have a lick of experience.

Murphy said he wasn't interested. "I was on my way out of the store when his wife stopped me and told me to come back after closing," Parks recalled while attending a retrospective of his work at Walker Art Center a decade ago. "Later I asked her why she took a chance on me, and she said she had just had an argument with Frank and was trying to get under his skin."

He chuckled, then added, "Actually, I think she was just a woman who had a great heart."
 

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Cat 6
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
MB1 said:
From the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Parks loved to tell the story about how he got his start by boldly walking into an exclusive clothing store called Frank Murphy's and asking if someone was needed to take photos of the models hired for a runway show. He didn't mention that he didn't own a camera or have a lick of experience.

Murphy said he wasn't interested. "I was on my way out of the store when his wife stopped me and told me to come back after closing," Parks recalled while attending a retrospective of his work at Walker Art Center a decade ago. "Later I asked her why she took a chance on me, and she said she had just had an argument with Frank and was trying to get under his skin."

He chuckled, then added, "Actually, I think she was just a woman who had a great heart."
That's great... :) It's just impossible to overstate his influence and inspiration for so many.
 

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gazing from the shadows
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27,287 Posts
Ridgetop said:
That's too bad. It's funny how I knew the pictures but not the name behind them. Great photography.
That is the power of photography. We know the images and the power of them and not the artist that produced them. Great testament to the artist.
 

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Cat 6
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
colker1 said:
he deserves more recognition. i don't see a book on him in any shops around me..
i didn't know those pics..
Hey colker...not sure if you have access to a Barnes & Noble but they usually have a nice collection of his photojournalism and writings...it's astounding just how much he created and for SO long. It's worth browsing for some of his works if at all possible.
 

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Banned
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chuckice said:
Hey colker...not sure if you have access to a Barnes & Noble but they usually have a nice collection of his photojournalism and writings...it's astounding just how much he created and for SO long. It's worth browsing for some of his works if at all possible.
i saw some of his work when i was learning and looking for everything photography. then his name seemed to disappear from photo mags.
the pic of the man w/ accordion is anthologic.
 

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A Canadian in Sweden
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6,130 Posts
Hi Charles,
I must apologise for my ignorance in not knowing who Gordon Parks was. My photographic influence has mostly come from Canadian and Swedish nature photographers like Sven Hornell, Claes Grundsten, and Freeman Patterson to Galen Rowell of the US and David Dombrovskis from Tasmania. Thanks for introducing me to a name that I will not forget in the near future.
Cheers, Wayne
ps. Any photobooks of his to suggest?
 

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Cat 6
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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
wayneanneli said:
Hi Charles,
I must apologise for my ignorance in not knowing who Gordon Parks was. My photographic influence has mostly come from Canadian and Swedish nature photographers like Sven Hornell, Claes Grundsten, and Freeman Patterson to Galen Rowell of the US and David Dombrovskis from Tasmania. Thanks for introducing me to a name that I will not forget in the near future.
Cheers, Wayne
ps. Any photobooks of his to suggest?
No apologies at all Wayne...hmmm, I just checked my collection against B&N and Amazon and some of it seems to be tough to find. I have these and I couldn't recommend one over another...they're all fantastic. Compilations of his writings and photography.
A Poet and His Camera
Whispers of Intimate Things
Arias of Silence
Glimpses Toward Infinity

I REALLY recommend his memoirs...talk about leading an amazing life. If anything I'd hit a local bookshop in the photography section. Maybe you'll get lucky...you won't be disappointed if so.

Here's some more...
http://www.pdngallery.com/legends/parks/mainframeset.shtml
 

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Devoid of all flim-flam
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7,283 Posts
I recently read Gordon Parks' autobiography, "A Choice of Weapons." That man lived a life and a half! Farm boy, homeless street kid in the big city, cat house piano player, prize fighter, hobo, big band musician, photographer... One of the great lives of the Twentieth Century. He's an absolutely first-rate author, too. He's fearless.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
weapons grade chaos said:
my uncle gave me both those books for my sixteenth birthday. sometimes I think I was born too late.
Yeah...same here. He's the reason I got into photography. I was fortunate enough to spend an entire semester in college just studying his body of work. He even came to talk to us towards the end of the year...jeez this is 17 years ago now. He was so genuine and inspiring to a bunch of know nothing college students. He brought all these unpublished pictures and was commenting on how unprofessional some of it was...as if!!! His work while covering Malcolm X and Ali deserves a book all of its own. He deserves more than biline on CNN... :mad:
 

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Daylight Fading
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Amazing guy.

I hadn't heard of him until I saw the piece on The News Hour tonight. I've spent the better part of the last 1/2 hour googling him to learn more. Just amazing all the really and truly brilliant people that we have in this world. Humbles me just to think of it.

BT
 

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Premium Member
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Great tribute to him in todays Washington Post.

They have an on-line edition, might be well worth checking out.

Also, I had forgotten that he directed "Shaft" probably the first modern "Black" movie (he sure set the bar high-imitated but rarely equled).

------------------------------------------

Who's the black private dick that's
a sex machine to all the chicks?

-Shaft!

Damn right.

Who is the man that would risk his
neck for his brother man?

-Shaft!

Can you dig it?

Who's the cat that won't cop out when
there's danger all about?

-Shaft!

Right on.

They say this cat Shaft is a bad mutha...
-Shut yo' mouth!
But I'm talkin' about Shaft...
-And we can dig it.

-----------------------------------

Lt. Androzzi
Well, I thought you might know something
I wanna know. Seems there been a lot o' low
quiet rumbles goin' on uptown... our people
have been able to pick of the sounds of it,
but no words.

Shaft
That's cuz us black folk talk mush mouth,
Lieutenant.

Lt. Androzzi
I thought we were gonna to get to it?

Shaft
We did, but you want me to pidgeon. I just
said 'Up yours, baby!'

Lt. Androzzi
How come a couple o' cats from Harlem come
downtown this mornin' lookin' for John
Shaft?

Shaft

Well, they're soul brothers. They came down
so I could teach 'em the handshake.

------------------------------------------

Shaft
Warms my black heart to see you so
concerned 'bout us minority folks.

Lt. Androzzi
Oh, come on, Shaft, what is it with this
black ****, huh? (Holding a black pen to
Shaft's face) You ain't so black!

Shaft
(Holding a white coffee cup to Androzzi's
face) And you ain't so white, baby.
 

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Cat 6
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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Awesome article...

MB1 said:
They have an on-line edition, might be well worth checking out.
A Conscience With a Lens
Gordon Parks Turned Photographs Into Poetry

By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 9, 2006; C01



Those who remember say that seeing Gordon Parks on the streets of Manhattan in the early 1950s was a beautiful thing.

His hair was wavy and black and swept back. Sometimes he wore an ascot. Maybe the night before he had been up in Harlem, hanging out with Langston Hughes or Jimmy Baldwin at Small's Paradise, having a bit to drink, talking about his photographs of Paris. Parks was always going or coming. And he always had his cameras.

"I'd see him on downtown street corners, always with a camera," says Evelyn Cunningham, a journalist who befriended Parks in the 1950s. "He'd be testing the light."

Cunningham says she and others always marveled at how Parks kept up such a stylish persona -- and his reputation as a major photographer.

He held dinner parties and soirees, wore long coats in the rain, and boxed up his cameras in lovely suitcases to travel.

He had a thing for fresh flowers.

He was not a great poet, but he was a poet nevertheless.

"He was a very sexy guy," says Cunningham. "He was always hitting on women -- tall, short. I was amused. I'm not criticizing. All the women loved him. He was glamorous and had a very beautiful apartment. He also laughed at himself. That, I thought, was refreshing. He didn't take himself very seriously -- but he took his cameras seriously."

Parks, who died Tuesday at the age of 93 in New York, crisscrossed America and the world for decades. He was an artist, writer, movie director. He was a Life photographer when that gig gave you a powerful cachet. In America, he used his cameras like six-shooters, aiming right at the nation's broken souls, her sad-eyed children, her blacks, browns and whites, her shoeshine men and faceless women with both dishrag and dignity.

In recent years Parks had been treated with tributes, a still-trim man with white hair out at Manhattan museums and galleries, swiveling into throngs of admirers, his hand shooting to shake this hand and that as he was reminded time and time again of the impact of his books and movies and photographs. Especially the photographs.

Parks's life had daguerreotype qualities: He was born in Kansas, he had worked as a sheepherder, he once went on the road with a semi-pro basketball team. In his youth he had struck out like Huck Finn, living in railroad towns, scribbling notes on postcards, letting those back home know all was okay.

"He didn't know fear," says Deborah Willis, a professor of history and imaging at New York University who befriended Parks in the 1970s, and who has done much to bring the work of black photographers to wider audiences. "He would always say to me, 'Debbie, you gotta keep working.' He would show me a way of moving on. I think it was rooted in the way he grew up."

Willis is teaching about Parks this semester at Harvard in a course titled "The Body and the Lens."

"It's about how Gordon used his work in a political way," she says.

Like Baldwin, Hughes and Richard Wright, he stretched boundaries and woke up others.

The government helped when he got work in the historical section of the Farm Security Administration's photography project.

In Washington in 1942 he aimed his camera at a woman no one had heard of by the name of Ella Watson. She was a cleaning lady with a thin, haunted face. She was poor as nickels. Parks once said the photograph said as much as a picture of a cross burning: "I thought then . . . that you could not photograph a person who turns you away from the motion picture ticket window, or someone who refuses to feed you, or someone who refuses to wait on you in a store. You could not photograph him and say, 'This is a bigot,' because bigots have a way of looking like everybody else."

"With that image," says Willis of the Watson photograph, "he was trying to show survival -- and beauty. The beauty in looking at the woman in raising her children and adopted daughter. The broom and mop were iconic images of the American woman. He was constructing a story about women who survived."

There was much work in the '50s photographing actors, fashion shows, beautiful things. He had seen the awful cruelties of life, and then he aimed his camera into the expanse of beauty as well. Broadway intrigued him. There's Tallulah Bankhead onstage in "Dear Charles." There's languidly beautiful Hildegarde Neff onstage in "Silk Stockings." There's Lorraine Hansberry -- a world-beater following her Broadway debut of "A Raisin in the Sun" -- at Sardi's, her hair high on her head. There's a parish priest strolling through a wheat field with a parishioner.

But in the '60s Parks was determined again to put the saga of America and her deep hurts into his lens.

Chicago at that time was as cruel a city as could be when it came to black poverty, its ailments profound and endless. Congress was trying to find ways to address poverty with legislation, but it wasn't enough. In Chicago, there were children eating plaster in their cold apartments because they were hungry.

For its March 8, 1968, issue, Life gave Parks both pen and camera. He went to Chicago and stood on a street corner, checking the light. He held nothing back.

"Look at me and know that to destroy me is to destroy yourself," the photographer wrote in introducing his photo spread. "You are weary of the long hot summers. I am tired of the long hungered winters. We are not so far apart as it might seem. There is something about both of us that goes deeper than blood or black and white. . . . My children's needs are the same as your children's."

Sixteen pages of Parks in words and photos: a child sleeping against a bedroom wall with holes; children studying in darkness; a picture of Jesus; a snaggle-toothed child who had been eating plaster; a man with a wave of tears in his eyes; a child and mother on a bed.

Poorer than nickels.

And yet, there was something beautiful about the pictures. Something sadly beautiful.

"The beauty of those Chicago slum pictures was not that there were pictures there of birds in flight with beautiful color," says Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, a photographer who was a friend of Parks's for 30 years. "It was a beauty of the human spirit. There was beauty, no matter how hard the life. And that's what Gordon found interesting."

A year after his Life magazine spread, Parks directed his first movie, "The Learning Tree," adapted from his autobiographical novel of the same name. Two years later would come his hit, "Shaft." The movie, from the Ernest Tidyman novel, was about a black private eye who solves a kidnapping. It was an amalgamation of Parks's interests in fashion, dignity, breaking barriers.

Parks received fine reviews, Richard Roundtree became a star and Isaac Hayes won an Oscar for the "Shaft" musical score.

"Just auditioning for that movie was such a big deal," says Sherri Bronfman, who played the kidnapped daughter Marcy. "That was like the beginning of black movies being done.

"The white movie executives didn't know anything about us as a people. Parks did. We were used to auditioning for white directors who we felt didn't know us."

Bronfman showed up to begin filming the movie dressed in a miniskirt and maxicoat. She was happy. She waved hello to Parks and got herself to the wardrobe department. She was given a brown outfit to wear. On the set, Parks looked at her. He didn't like what wardrobe had outfitted her in. "He said, 'What you were wearing when you came in, go put that back on.' He had an eye," says Bronfman.

In black America, "Shaft" became both movie and cultural moment. Shaft was cool, stopped traffic with a wave of the arm, and didn't kowtow to anyone. He wasn't afraid of the man because he was The Man.

"Shaft showed our men in a whole other light," says Bronfman. "Shaft was take-charge. And the way Gordon allowed language to go in the movie.

"The stereotypes were not there. The characters were clearly defined."

Parks kept writing, autobiographies and photo books. He was generous with his time.

Moutoussamy-Ashe was in a photo exhibit at a Harlem gallery in 1976 along with Dawoud Bey and Frank Stewart, two other photographers. At night she had studied Parks, looked at his images, thought she might someday meet that impressive man, but probably not. But there he was, at the door of her opening. "The great Gordon Parks showed!" she remembers. "We were just three novice photographers. Even the gallery owner said, 'Wow.' We were just stunned."

As he grew sicker last year, he seemed to grow lonelier. There were nurses around, but no wife. He had been married three times and divorced three times. He was smitten with photographer Ming Smith, had been for years, and asked her to marry him. "I blushed," says Smith. "I told him I'd think about it."

Visitors to his United Nations Plaza apartment were awed by the beauty and the decorative touches. There were always fresh flowers. Artwork and books were everywhere. On New Year's Day, Smith and Bronfman went by to visit. There was laughter, cookies, sweets. He insisted on playing something on the piano. He rose, stiffly, and sat down. He played Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata."

An old man, young again. The women smiled.

When Bronfman reached in the closet for her coat, her eyes stopped. She saw it hanging there. Shiny and black and cool.

"His 'Shaft' coat," she says.
 
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