The Renaissance Man (Gordon Parks)
The Original Renaissance Man
GORDON PARKS (1912-2006 )
The Original Renaissance man is one of his many titles.
The achievements of Gordon Parks alone, proves that any vision can become a reality if you take advantage of an opportunity, work hard and believe in yourself.
From birth, Parks went against all odds.
He came into this world as a fighter, still born and pronounced dead with no heartbeat. Parks was laid aside to be buried, a shocking technique that included putting his body in ice-cold water brought him back to life. And from then on, the legend continued to make his mark by reaching major milestones and going where others were afraid to explore.
Before his death he became an internationally-renowned photographer, filmmaker, poet, novelist and a composer. Parks was the co-founder of Essence magazine; he even wrote a ballet and dedicated it to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Parks grew up in a poor neighborhood in Fort Scott, Kansas. He was the youngest of fifteen children. Later on, he decided to write a novel titled the Learning Tree based on his troubled childhood. Warner Brothers was interested in turning the book into a movie but Parks decided to direct it himself. He became the first African-American to direct a film for a major studio. This served as a historical achievement in black history because this was the first time that black audiences could view a studio-action film that incorporated a black hero. The film was a success and earned enough money to save MGM studios from bankruptcy.
Parks was also the director of the movie Shaft and the sequel Shaft’s Big Score. He didn’t stop there.
At age 25, Parks bought a camera for $7.50 and taught himself how to take photos. He took pictures of anything and everything ranging from fashion to the Chicago slums. In 1944, he was the only black photographer working for Vogue and four-years later he reached another pinnacle as the first black photographer to work for Life Magazine. Parks traveled to France, Italy and Spain.
The photographer is known for documenting the civil rights movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and segregation in Alabama during the 50s. Even in his absence, his journey still serves as motivation and is applicable to all those working towards a goal.
1989-The Learning Tree was preserved in the United States National Film Registry. The United States Library of Congress listed the film as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” due to its being the first major studio feature film directed by an African-American.
1995- Parks announced that he will donate his papers and entire artistic collection to the Library of Congress. One year later, “The Gordon Parks Collection” was curated.
1999- Gordon Parks Elementary School, a non-profit, K-5 public charter school in Kansas City, Missouri, was established to educate the urban-core
2000-The Library of Congress deemed Shaft to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, selecting it for National Film Registry preservation as well.
Books by Parks
- Flash Photography (1947) (technical)
- Camera Portraits: Techniques and Principles of Documentary Portraiture (1948) (documentary)
- The Learning Tree (1964) (semi-autobiographical)
- A Choice of Weapons (1967) (autobiographical)
- Born Black (1970) (compilation of essays and photographs)
Films by Parks
- Flavio (1964)
- Diary of a Harlem Family (1968)
- The World of Piri Thomas (1968)
- The Learning Tree (1969)
- Shaft (1971)
- Shaft’s Big Score (1972), director and composer
- The Super Cops (1974)
- Leadbelly (1976)
- Solomon Northup’s Odyssey (1984)
- Martin (1989), PBS presentation of the stage performance of the ballet written on Martin Luther King, Jr.