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 Gordon Parks  (1913 - 2006)

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Lived/Active: New York/Illinois/Kansas      Known for: Photography, illustration, prints, writing

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Ad Code: 3
Gordon  Parks
Grandchildren of Ella Watson, Government Charwoman, Washington, D.C., 1942 (negative) printed later, gelatin silver print
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born Ft. Scott, Nov. 30, 1912; d. New York, NY, Mar. 7, 2006. Artist. Photographer. Writer. Composer. Film-director. Film producer. Parks became the first African-American photographer to work at magazines like Life and Vogue, and the first black to work for the Office of War Information and the Farm Security Administration. Parks achieved these milestones in the 1940s. Later, in the 1960s, he helped break racial barriers in Hollywood as the first African-American director for a major studio. He co-produced, directed, wrote the screenplay, and composed the musical score for the film based on his 1963 novel, The Learning Tree.
Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, 1941; Notable Book Award, American Library Association for A Choice of Weapons, 1966; Emmy Award for documentary, Diary of a Harlem Family, 1968; Spingarn Award, 1972; Christopher Award for Flavio, 1978; National Medal of the Arts, 1988; Library of Congress National Film Registry Classics film honor for The Learning Tree, 1989; honorary Doctor of Letters, University of the District of Columbia, 1996; induction into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum, 2002; Jackie Robinson Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002.

Spencer Museum of Art.

Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Kansas Biographical Dictionary. New York: Somerset Publ., 1993.; Gale Free Resource,, accessed Jan. 4, 2006; Family Search. Version 2.5.0. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2002. accessed July 17, 2006; Brookkman, Philip. Half Past Autumn: A Retrospective. Boston : Little, Brown and Co, 1997).
This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

Biography from Christy Lee Fine Arts:
Born in Fort Scott, Kansas on November 30, 1913,  Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks had to leave home at age fifteen when his mother died.  For the next twelve years, he lived mainly in Minneapolis, Minnesota-working as a piano player, bus boy, dining car waiter, Civilian Conservation Corpsman and professional basketball player—before taking up photography in the late 1930's and moving to Chicago.

In 1942, he was awarded the first Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in Photography, and chose to work with Roy Stryker at the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington, D.C.  During World War II, he was an OWI (Office of War Information) correspondent.  Later he joined Stryker at Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) as a photographer working out of New York City, and living in White Plains, New York.  At that time he wrote his first two books on photography, and began doing freelance fashion photography for Vogue and Glamour.  In 1949, he joined the staff of LIFE magazine and worked there as a photojournalist until 1969, doing over 300 assignments and articles on a wide variety of subjects.  In the late 1960's, he became famous for his stories on the leaders of the Black Revolution, articles later incorporated into his books, Born Black.  Gordon Parks continued to write and photography for LIFE while pursuing his many other projects.

He was a founder of Essence magazine, and its editorial director from 1970-73.  He wrote articles, poetry, essays, and did photography for many major magazines, plus commissioned portfolios for museums.

Gordon Parks received many awards for photography, writing, filmmaking and humanitarianism.  Among his most valued are the NAACP's highest award, the Spingarn Medal, and the Governor's Medal of Merit, struck especially for him to honor his being named 1985 Kansan of the Year.  He is also the recipient of 56 honorary degrees in literature, fine arts and humane letters from colleagues and universities across America.

In 1987 he was commissioned by the Birmingham Art Museum for a special exhibition.  A retrospective traveling exhibition was organized by the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. and opened in September 1997. The exhibition traveled throughout the United States to 20 museum venues. At each venue Gordon's music was also performed.

Gordon Parks lived in New York City and died of cancer on March 7, 2006.

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