Gordon Parks: A Must-Know Hero For All Aspiring Photographers

Learn all about Gordon Parks and his important contributions to the field of photography, the Black community, and American culture.
Gem Garcin, Qeepsake Mom & Creator

If you or your children are aspiring photographers, Gordon Parks is someone you need to know about! He was an American art and photojournalism photographer, the first Black staff member of Life Magazine, the first Black director of a major film (Shaft), and on top of all of that, a father of four. With his photography ranging from powerful photojournalism to glamour shots for Vogue, Parks has been a powerful role model for aspiring photographers for decades. 

A photo of Gordon Parks perched on a chair in a collared shirt and sweater, the sleeves pushed up exposing a watch on his wrist, looking seriously but kindly at the camera. Another photo of him with his pen and a small notebook such as a journalist would carry. He is in a suit jacket and white collared shirt. He has a slight smile on his face, a mustache and wrinkles between his eyebrows and forehead. He is slighty younger in this picture, perhaps middle aged, versus likely in his 60s or 70s in the first picture. His hair and mustache are black here, versus gray in the first picture. In the middle, the text reads: The first Black staff member of Life Magazine and the first Black director of a major motion film, Shaft.  The Gordon Parks Foundation, is a preservation of Gordon’s work, and supports and advances artists while providing educational opportunities.   Parks also has mentions in the National Gallery of Art for his outstanding contributions as a photographer, artist and activist. On the right, the text reads, "I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera." - Gordon Parks

As a photographer, film director, writer, and musician, Parks was a man of many artistic talents. His work in the 1940s through 1970s was groundbreaking and helped to bring civil rights, poverty, race relations, and urban life to mainstream American culture. Parks saw the power of calling attention to social issues through his photography, and through his art, and became recognized as an activist.  He captured the everyday lives of Black people in America in a way many in mainstream American culture had never seen before. All while Dadding his four kiddos!

A Gordon Parks original photograph in color, but clearly old. A Black mother looks on from a doorway inquisitively as two children, both girls in frilly dresses, one green and one pink, sit outside on wooden chairs, and smile together as they look through a book.
Photo Credit: Gordon Parks, Untitled, Mobile, Alabama, 1956⁠ from Instagram @gordonparksfoundation

The Gordon Parks Foundation was created to preserve Parks’ work and make it available for the public to experience. The foundation also provides support and education that contribute to what Parks called “the common search for a better life and a better world.” What a man! What a Dad!

A Gordon Parks original photograh. It is black and white and a Black mom sits on a chair sewing while her daughter with her hair in a beautiful braid tied in a bow, lies on the bed on her belly reading a book. Her legs are hanging off the bed with her shiny black patent leather shoes dangling in the air. There is a big beautiful doll house, and floral wallpaper. The photograph is illuminated by a single exposed bulb on a chain hanging from the ceiling.
Photo Credit: Gordon Parks, Untitled, Kansas City, Missouri, 1950⁠ from Instagram @gordonparksfoundation

From The Gordon Parks Foundation website, "The Gordon Parks Foundation supports and produces artistic and educational initiatives that advance the legacy and vision of Gordon Parks for social justice... The Foundation was co-founded in 2006 by Parks with his longtime friend and editor at LIFE magazine, Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., to preserve his creative work and support the next generation of artists advancing social justice.

Through scholarly exhibitions, publications, critical research projects, and public programs organized in collaboration with institutions internationally and at its exhibition space in Pleasantville, New York, The Gordon Parks Foundation provides access to, and deepens understanding of the work and legacy of Gordon Parks for artists, scholars, students, and the public. The artist’s archive of photographs, negatives, and contact sheets is a critical resource for scholars and curators in the development of academic research and institutional exhibitions.

Drawing inspiration from the pivotal role of a fellowship Parks received early in his career, the Foundation’s educational and grant-making initiatives are core to its mission and year-round activities. Through The Gordon Parks Foundation Scholarships and Prizes and The Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship, the Foundation provides vital support to artists and champions current and future generations of creatives whose work continues his legacy. These initiatives are made possible through The Gordon Parks Arts and Social Justice Fund, established by the Foundation in 2019."

A picture of the Gordon Parks Foundation physical space in Pleasantville NY. It's a brick and cement building on a street with other stores. It looks both cool and inviting.
Photo Credit: The Gordon Parks Foundation, gordonparksfoundation.org/about-the-foundation/mission

To learn more about the Gordon Parks Foundation, find inspiration from some incredible artists, and support their mission, visit their website below.

Gordon Parks Foundation in white letters on a purple button. Click here to learn more about the Gordon Parks Foundation.


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