New York City
Although director Gordon Parks spent the majority of his professional career as a photographer, he achieved international success with his 1971 film, Shaft. However, his real achievements were far more lasting. Not only was he the first black photographer for Life Magazine, but was also the first black film director in Hollywood with his 1969 film, The Learning Tree (based on both his novel and then screenplay).
As a photographer, his willingness to pursue subjects to search for the ideal image set him apart from other art photographers of his day, and this grittiness made him a key chronicler of the Civil Rights Movement. He used his storytelling abilities (both as photographer and writer) to enact social change, most famously in the case of the impoverished Flavio da Silva, a boy living in Rio de Janeiro.
Although the blaxploitation genre of film would later be attributed to Gordon Parks film Shaft, he had little to do with the style and his photographs and stories featured strong, often-angry black men and women. He contributed to virtually every genre of art, but his photography was his first and greatest talent.
Never sentimental, Parks captured the darker side of humanity in his work, and departed from the typical photos of the Civil Right Movement to focus on the average African-American citizen in the 1950s. Most famously, his photograph American Gothic displays an African-American cleaning lady holding a broom and mop with the American flag as a background, presenting a slice-of-life in contemporary African-American life.
American Gothic, photograph, 1942. (Washington, D.C.). http://www.pdngallery.com/legends/parks/large_pages/01.shtml
Death Room, photograph, 1949, (Fort Scott, Kansas). http://www.pdngallery.com/legends/parks/large_pages/04.shtml
The Fontanelle Family, photograph, 1967 (New York City) http://www.pdngallery.com/legends/parks/large_pages/09.shtml
Shaft, Directed by Gordon Parks. 1971. MGM-Warner Bros. http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/1280/Shaft/
Lamb, Yvonne. “ ‘Life’ Photographer and ‘Shaft’ Director broke Color Barriers.” March 8, 2006. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/07/AR2006030701708.html
The Gordon Parks Foundation. “About Gordon Parks.” 2014. http://www.gordonparksfoundation.org/biography/
Olson, Dan. “Gordan Parks’ Many Artistic Faces.” February 11, 2005. http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2005/02/11_olsond_parks/