Tallahassee, FL. – Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) School of Journalism and Graphic Communication will host the Gordon Parks “Crossroads” exhibit beginning Tuesday, November 27 through January 15, 2008 in the FAMU Black Archives. FAMU will be the second of six colleges and universities to host the exhibit.
“It’s very exciting to know that people are going to have the chance to witness such an accomplished photographers work up close as opposed to in books,” said Delisha Peterson, an adjunct graphic communications professor at FAMU.
Individuals will be able to view 45 of Parks’ works, all selected from different areas of his multifaceted career. A career that saw Parks’ served as a composer, a musician, a poet, a photographer a journalist and a director to name a few.
“Crossroads” serves as an opportunity to celebrate the life and a career of a man who undoubtedly was one of the most influential photojournalists of the 20th century.
A native of Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks was the youngest of 15 children. In 1938, at the age of 25, he bought his first camera for $7.50 from a pawnshop after being captivated by some photographs of migrant workers in a magazine one day. He was encouraged by the photo clerk who developed his first roll of film to try his hand at fashion photography. Within months, his photographs of African-American women were in the windows of stores like Frank Murphy’s women’s clothing store in St. Paul and the Eastman Kodak store in Minneapolis. From that point on, Parks’ career began to expand in all sorts of directions.
Marva Louis, the wife of heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis, caught sight of one of Park’s photos and urged him to move to Chicago where he started a portrait company for women. Simultaneously, Parks held down jobs as a freelance photographer, and a fashion photographer to help satisfy his ever growing hunger for avenues to express his almost uncanny creativity.
Despite all of this success, Parks never once forgot where he came from using his passion for photography as method of telling the story of his people. In 1941, he began to record the everyday struggle of residents in the Southside of Chicago, which later won him a fellowship with the Farm Security Administration as its first black photographer. During this time, he created one of his most well known works today, “American Gothic, Washington, D.C.”
In 1949, after publishing two books of photography, Parks became the first black photographer for Life magazine where he launched a 20 year long career, in which he covered any and everything dealing with racism and civil rights. Parks used his position with Life to heighten awareness about issues he felt needed more attention like the Harlem gang wars and the Black Panthers and occasionally softer topics like fashion in Paris and sports. Not too long after he started to work for Life, he began to direct documentaries and in the early 1960s began to write poetry. The Learning Tree, which Parks had published in 1969, was a compilation of several books of his poetry that were accompanied by his own photographs.
The success of Parks’ autobiographical novel The Learning Tree spawned a film version by the same name. The movie The Learning Tree made Parks the first major black director in Hollywood’s history. He went on to direct the 1971 smash hit Shaft, which lead to an onslaught of similar films with black heroes.
Parks is mostly remembered for the time he spent as photojournalist for Time magazine and being the co-founder of Essence magazine as well as his activism and desire to help others.
Parks died at the age of 93 in 2006.
Sponsored by the Circulating Exhibitions and the Gordon Parks Foundation, the exhibit is free and open to the general public. For more information, call (850) 599-3020.
- 30 -