Gordon Parks, RIP

I wish we were hearing more about the passing of Gordon Parks, who was truly one of the legends of American journalism (photo- or otherwise). AP’s obit hits the high spots, though.

Gordon Parks Dies at 93
By POLLY ANDERSON
03.08.2006, 04:31 AM

Gordon Parks’ groundbreaking journey from poor high-school dropout to black pioneer left a legacy of stark and unblinking photographs, genre-forging movies, novels, poetry, music and even a ballet.

“I think most people can do a whole awful lot more if they just try,” Parks told The Associated Press in 2000. “They just don’t have the confidence that they can write a novel or they can write poetry or they can take pictures or paint or whatever, and so they don’t do it, and they leave the planet dissatisfied with themselves.”

Parks covered everything from fashion to sports during his 20 years at Life from 1948 to 1968, but was perhaps best known for his gritty photo essays on the grinding effects of poverty in the United States and abroad and on the spirit of the civil rights movement.

“Those special problems spawned by poverty and crime touched me more, and I dug into them with more enthusiasm,” he said. “Working at them again revealed the superiority of the camera to explore the dilemmas they posed.”

In 1961, his photographs in Life of a poor, ailing Brazilian boy named Flavio da Silva brought donations that saved the boy and purchased a new home for him and his family.

“Gordon was one of the magazine’s most accomplished shooters and one of the very greatest American photographers of the 20th century,” said Life’s managing editor, Bill Shapiro. “He moved as easily among the glamorous figures of Hollywood and Paris as he did among the poor in Brazil and the powerful in Washington.” (Story.)

Parks was the first black photojournalist to work for Life, a remarkable publication that not only told America about the Civil Rights movement, but did so as early as the 1940s. I remember being stunned that the movement existed that early, in fact, and we owe Parks a tremendous debt for his efforts to chronicle it.

Every time one of the legends dies – Parks and Thompson in the last few months, for instance – I find myself looking around wondering who’s going to fill their shoes. Thanks to the corporatization of news, it ain’t looking so good. I notice that nobody has even mentioned it on …

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2 comments

  1. I saw this story this morning on CNN and I love the comment about people not trying. I totally agree. So many just don’t care enough to try and that’s just sad.

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