We’re celebrating what would have been Parks’ 110th birthday!
Gordon Parks was a photographer, musician, author, and filmmaker whose career spanned more than 50 years. Widely recognized as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Parks was known for using photography as a medium to highlight the dynamic nuances of everyday life. His work elevated the conversation around American life, culture, race, social justice and the Black experience. A Kansas native, the world-renowned photographer also made history as the first African-American photographer to shoot for LIFE and Vogue magazines.
Parks passed away in 2006 at the age of 93, but his legacy today is alive and well and continues to be spotlighted in various cultural moments as the years go by. In 2017, rapper Kendrick Lamar partnered with The Gordon Parks Foundation for a new exhibit called “Element,” a homage to Parks where Lamar featured recreated images from the famed photographer in the video for one of his singles.
"I'm so inspired that my friend Kendrick Lamar chose the iconic imagery of the legendary Gordon Parks in his video for ELEMENT. It’s a prime example of how contemporary change makers – artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers – can borrow from the greats of the past who were also working towards social change,” said producer and Harvard Business School graduate Swizz Beatz, who is a long-time supporter of The Gordon Parks Foundation.
The Foundation has worked overtime to keep Parks’ legacy and work alive, awarding fellowships annually since 2017 to rising artists who share in the late photographer's commitment and vision for using arts and humanities as a conduit for social change. In January of this year, the foundation announced its 2022 Gordon Parks Fellows, which include photographer Andre D. Wagner, artist Bisa Butler, and author and curator Nicole R. Fleetwood, who received the inaugural Genevieve Young Fellowship in Writing.
The aim of the scholarship is to pay it forward, carrying on Parks’ legacy by supporting other creatives in the same way that he was supported. In 1941, Parks was awarded the Julius Rosenwald fellowship, which helped support his move to Washington, D.C. and simultaneously launched his career as a professional artist.
Later that summer, The Gordon Parks Foundation announced a recent acquisition of Parks’ work by Howard University, the Washington, D.C. HBCU acquiring 252 photographs featuring the photographer's earlier works from the 1940s to 1990s. Housed in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, the acquisition is one of the most comprehensive collections of Parks’ work, and features 15 study sets organized by theme and subject that will be used in a variety of curricula and exhibitions highlighting Parks as an artist and humanitarian.
“Howard University is proud to be the recipient of such an important collection of work by African-American artist and photojournalist Gordon Parks. Mr. Parks was a trailblazer whose documentation of the lived experiences of African-Americans, especially during the civil rights period, inspired empathy, encouraged cultural and political criticism, and sparked activism among those who viewed his work. Having a collection of his timeless photographs…will allow Howard University faculty, students, and visiting scholars to draw on his work and build upon his legacy of truth telling and representation through the arts,” Howard President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick said via a press statement.
In honor of Parks and what would have been his 110th birthday, here are 10 groundbreaking photos shot by Gordon Parks that would inspire anyone:
Because of Gordon Parks, we can!
10 groundbreaking photos shot by Gordon Parks that would inspire anyone. Self-portrait of Gordon Parks, 1941. Photo Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation and National Gallery of Art, Washington