Gordon Parks

American photographer, filmmaker, writer, and composer
Born: Nov. 30, 1912
Birthplace: Fort Scott, Kansas

Best known as an acclaimed photographer, Gordon Parks was also a highly accomplished writer, filmmaker, and composer. Growing up in poverty, Parks managed to become a premier fashion photographer in the 1940s, eventually working for Glamour, Vogue, and other glossy New York magazines. He became the first African American to work as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration, where he developed his powerful documentary style depicting slums, poverty, and the marginal existences of African Americans. Of his photography work for the FSA, he commented, “I had known poverty firsthand, but there I learned how to fight its evil--along with the evil of racism—with a camera.”

In 1948, he became a photographer for Life magazine—their first African American photographer-—and worked for Life over the next quarter century. His celebrated photojournalism included portrayals of Harlem gang warfare, profiles of leading American poets, the civil rights movement, Malcolm X, the Martin Luther King's death, and the Black Panthers. Parks also wrote the text accompanying some of his photo essays for Life.

Parks directed eight films, ranging from documentaries to thrillers. In 1969, he became the first black director for a major Hollywood studio when Warner Brothers released The Learning Tree, a film based on an autobiographical novel Parks wrote. From there he went on to several commercial successes, including Shaft (1971) and Shaft's Big Score (1972).

Over the years, Parks published a number of novels and memoirs as well as poetry. An extraordinary polymath, he also composed classical, blues, and popular music,

Died: March 7, 2006

Sarah Jessica ParkerPLouella Parsons

More on Gordon Parks from Fact Monster: