I still don't know exactly who I am

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onepence
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I still don't know exactly who I am

Postby onepence » Sun Mar 12, 2006 4:09 am

Gordon Parks, 1912-2006: The Eye of the Storm

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11769187/site/newsweek/

Newsweek

March 20, 2006 issue - I still don't know exactly who I am," Gordon Parks wrote in 1979. Anyone would have been confused. Photographer, filmmaker, novelist, memoirist, poet, composer—where to begin? He took fashion photos for Vogue in the '40s, became one of the world's best photojournalists at Life magazine—he was the first black photographer on staff—and was the first African-American to make a major feature film, 1969's "The Learning Tree," based on his own novel, for which he was producer, director, screenwriter and cinematographer. And he composed the soundtrack. His 1971 movie "Shaft" led to the urban realism of such filmmakers as Spike Lee and John Singleton. One writer called Parks "the Jackie Robinson of film." Or maybe Robinson was the Gordon Parks of baseball.


But if he'd done nothing else, Parks would be remembered for those photographic portraits. A magisterial Malcolm X. A brooding Langston Hughes. Perhaps above all, "American Gothic," taken in the early 1940s for the Farm Security Administration: a bespectacled black cleaning woman in front of an American flag, exuding weary dignity that seems about to turn into righteous anger. " I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty," he once reflected, "against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs." His masterly, widely popular work did much to right them.

—David Gates

onepence
Posts: 473
Joined: Sat Feb 04, 2006 2:44 pm
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Postby onepence » Sun Mar 12, 2006 4:16 am

on Sun, Mar. 12, 2006

Gordon Parks' simple but inspiring message
By Ron Tarver

INQUIRER STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Gordon Parks came to Philadelphia in October 1996 to speak at the 15th anniversary of the Mt. Airy Learning Tree, a community-service organization named after his autobiographical novel and his subsequent film of it. I knew that I was to be Parks' escort during his two-day stay. What I didn't know was that the last two hours of his visit would be two of the most transcendent of my life.

After his speech at the celebration, my last duty was to drive him to 30th Street Station. We arrived only to find that his train back home to New York was delayed. For two hours I had a private audience with one of the most prolific and esteemed photographers in America, arguably the world.
During our conversation I saw the human side of Parks, who died Tuesday at age 93 in New York. We talked about his need to keep projects going so he could keep up with his alimony payments. (He was married and divorced three times.) About his love of beautiful women. About his occasional mental blocks and the fact that he couldn't indulge them for long because of his responsibilities.

With all his accomplishments, he talked about how it is best to stay grounded and not let what you've already done influence what you do next. That was what came through, not in pithy advice from a master photographer, which I'd hoped for, but in talk simply between two guys.
But it was his accomplishments that inspired my work. Especially his work in the early 1940s at the federal Farm Security Administration. I loved his documentary work of African Americans living in Washington. Through those images he was able to capture the ideas of racism and inequality long before the dramatic images of the 1960s did.

Consider American Gothic, Washington, D.C. - his 1942 portrait of Ella Watson, a black woman who mopped floors for the government. He posed her with broom in one hand, mop in the other, in front of an American flag. It became one of his most haunting and enduring images. What impresses me even more is the guts it took for a black photographer to take that photograph at that time in Washington - and then to take it back to his employer, the FSA.

Stylistically, it's hard to pigeonhole him. He refused to hold to a particular approach, instead experimenting with color, with light, with objects, with mood. He created what he wanted, how he wanted. In the 1940s and '50s, when photographs of movie stars often evoked high glamour (with obvious studio lighting), his portraits of Hollywood were instead very real. Over a long career, he never became a prisoner to trends.

So there I sat in the train station alone with Gordon Parks, who in the late 1940s had become the first black staff photographer at Life magazine. Who had entered film history with The Learning Tree and Shaft. The night before, he had given his speech, the public presentation of an accomplished man. At 30th Street Station we just chatted.

As I drank in every word he said, it became apparent to me that the ultimate Renaissance man before me had a simple message: Work hard. Challenge conventional wisdom. Create. Don't give up.

For the 93 years of his life, Parks lived these truths. Through a lifetime of showing the world how to see itself, he inspired hundreds of other African American photographers, including myself, to do the same.

onepence
Posts: 473
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Postby onepence » Sun Mar 12, 2006 4:23 am

Two Contradictory Interpretations of Parks' Photograph "American Gothic"

Take one more look at the photograph we began with:

http://cc.ysu.edu/~satingle/AmSt%202601 ... ations.htm

Below are two contradictory interpretations of the image from two different respectable and credible sources.

A: History/Contexts for Gordon Park’s Photograph “American Gothic”
"American Gothic," considered to be Parks's signature image, was taken in Washington, D.C., in 1942, during the photographer's fellowship with the Farm Security Administration, a government agency set up by President Roosevelt to aid farmers in despair. "It's the first professional image I ever made," Parks says, "created on my first day in Washington." Roy Stryker, who led the FSA's very best documentary photographers—Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Carl Mydans, etc.—told Parks to go out and get acquainted with the city. Parks was amazed by the amount of bigotry and discrimination he encountered on his very first day. "White restaurants made me enter through the back door, white theaters wouldn't even let me in the door, and as the day went on things just went from bad to worse." Stryker told Parks to go talk with some older black people who had lived their entire lives in Washington and see how they had coped. "That's how I met Ella," Parks explains.

Ella Watson was a black charwoman who mopped floors in the FSA building. Parks asked her about her life, which she divulged as having been full of misery, bigotry and despair. Parks's simple question, "Would you let me photograph you?" and Ella's affirmative response, led to the photographer's most recognizable image of all time. "Two days later Stryker saw the image and told me I'd gotten the right idea but was going to get all the FSA photogs fired, that my image of Ella was 'an indictment of America.' I thought the image had been killed but one day there it was, on the front page of The Washington Post ." At the time, Parks couldn't have realized that the image would go on to become the symbol of the pre-civil rights era's treatment of minorities.

Source: Info on Parks and and his image from http://www.pdn-pix.com/legends/parks/intro_set.shtml



B: History/Contexts for Gordon Park’s Photograph “American Gothic”
Gordon Parks, American Gothic

The photograph portrays a man wearing a dress and holding a broom, standing in front of an American flag. The man’s stance and blank expression recall American Gothic, the famous painting by Grant Wood of a man and woman standing in front of their simple house with a Gothic-style window. The painting has come to symbolize certain American values and styles and has been reproduced and parodied countless times.

In this particular parody one can read the American flag as a replacement for the house, which has come to symbolize American style or value. The man can be seen as a fusion of the man and woman in the original painting; he may connote a shifting sense of gender divisions in this country. Although Wood’s painting signified American style, it also signified America’s blend of conformity and freedom Parks’s photograph takes this meaning to an extreme by dressing a man in woman’s clothing (an expression of freedom), but the clothes are fairly conservative and traditionally feminine (an expression of conformity).

Source: Teaching Seeing and Writing, by Anne Kress and Suellyn Winkle. Bedford St. Martins Press, 2000, pp. 204-5

onepence
Posts: 473
Joined: Sat Feb 04, 2006 2:44 pm
Location: Longwood, FL, USA

pic

Postby onepence » Sun Mar 12, 2006 4:24 am


onepence
Posts: 473
Joined: Sat Feb 04, 2006 2:44 pm
Location: Longwood, FL, USA

Postby onepence » Sun Mar 12, 2006 4:41 am

Gordon Parks in front of his “American Gothic, 1942.”

http://www.frostillustrated.com/news/20 ... p1_xlg.jpg

onepence
Posts: 473
Joined: Sat Feb 04, 2006 2:44 pm
Location: Longwood, FL, USA

Gordon Parks, 1912-2006

Postby onepence » Mon Mar 13, 2006 11:20 pm

Gordon Parks, 1912-2006

The renowned photographer, filmmaker, and author was as self-made as self-made men get

by Greg Tate

March 13th, 2006 2:00 PM

http://villagevoice.com/film/0611,tate,72511,20.html

Talk about flipping the script: Gordon Parks was born dead and damn near buried alive. Then went on to live to the ripe young age of 93. Fortunately, two doctors were attendant that November 30 in 1912. The thinking one had the brainstorm of immersing the stillborn infant in ice water to jump-start his heart and gave him a fully operational third eye in the process. Total immersion of head and heart would become his lifelong m.o. Given his staggering output as photographer, filmmaker, writer, painter, choreographer, and composer, he seems to have not slept much after his rebirth. Orphaned by his mother's death and sent to live with an aunt, he was thrown out into a subzero Minnesota winter at 14 by her model-of-man's-inhumanity husband. So take a memo: the mark of a visionary is being a young Black man in the Depression and blowing $7.50—a month of meals back then—on a camera. Only lo and behold the fledgling shutterbug begins showing at the local Eastman Kodak shop by impressing the manager's wife.

As with Oscar Wilde and Duke Ellington, Parks's greatest invention was himself. Here we have one of those impossibly rare instances where the work and the man measure up as parallel monuments. Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan decrees that "a warrior must be impeccable," and Parks—dapper, debonair, perpetually down for the cause, and ready like a samurai for whatever the funk called for—epitomized that edict. But what of the work? In his books you'll find immaculate, inventive, indelible images of society, high and lower than low. Other than Richard Avedon, it's hard to think of another native-born photographer who so gracefully moved between haute couture and the street. When aimed at an injustice, Parks's camera could pull you so close to the pathos that you might overlook his skill and surface beauty. After just one day in 1930s Washington, D.C., encountering what he called the worst racism of his life, he shot his first classic, American Gothic, in which office cleaner Ella Woods grips a broom in one hand and a mop in the other in the pose of Grant Wood's stoic farm couple while the red-white-and-blue hangs in the background like a shroud. Woods, Parks reported, cleaned the office of a white woman of no more education who'd also started at the company with a mop. Parks's boss thought the photo would get them all fired for its implicit critique of the America way. Much to his chagrin it turned up weeks later in The Washington Post.

This wasn't the last time the gatekeepers found his work too Black too strong. A series he shot of Black fighter pilots training during WWII was held back by a military unready to present that image of the Black soldier. His Life series on poverty in Brazil's favelas was initially reduced to one shot by his editors, who thought Parks's countrymen didn't want to know what poverty looked like in carnival Rio. Parks nearly resigned until fate had The New York Times run a story the next day on the U.S.'s obligations to Brazil's oppressed. The series generated donations of $30,000; its asthmatic subject spent two years in the U.S. being cured pro bono and bought his family a new house. Parks's immersion process would also produce portraits of a family who shared their Chicago project apartment with him. These photos too earned their subjects a house, but the father would die after coming home drunk and setting it ablaze and eventually nearly all the children would perish in jail or of AIDS.

Parks often found himself on the other side of the camera sharing the most intimate and tragic details of his subjects' lives. He once took a ride tailed by the cops with some young L.A. Panthers with guns in their laps. One asked him if he would still choose the camera over the gun, as he'd declared in his 1967 memoir, A Choice of Weapons. Parks reiterated his belief. Two weeks later the Panther was dead. When Life nearly betrayed the trust he'd gained from a young Chicago gang leader by choosing a cover shot of the youth with a smoking gun, Parks destroyed the negative. In 1963, Life asked him to "infiltrate" the Nation of Islam. Instead he and Malcolm X became quick friends. Parks is the godfather of Malcolm's daughter, Qubilah, and is cited in The Autobiography as a successful Black man who never lost touch with his people.



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Because Parks transitioned into filmmaking just as TV was destroying photojournalism, the post-1970 generation knows him primarily as the aristocratic white-haired eminence who directed Shaft. And while Parks's autobiographical cinematic debut, The Learning Tree, is in the National Film Registry, his most critically acclaimed films, The Super Cops and Leadbelly, have languished unavailable for far too long. One online pundit thinks the mostly white Super Cops has aged far better than The French Connection and The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, while Roger Ebert calls Leadbelly hands down the best movie about a musician ever. I'd go further and say Leadbelly is the most lyrical work save August Wilson's about the roustabout world of violence, bloodhounds, swamps, railcars, bordellos, juke joints, cotton fields, and chain gangs that spawned the blues and its alchemical admixture of sardonic joy and short-lived sensual pleasure. Parks nearly abandoned Hollywood the day he found out Paramount had opened it in a New York porno theatre. It defies two of Hollywood's still standing prohibitions by depicting Black people enjoying themselves sexually and Black men defending themselves against bloodthirsty crackers. No wonder it remains unavailable on VHS or DVD. You can see Leadbelly was where Parks took all he knew about the blues as musician, lover, rambler, and Depression survivor, and translated it into gritty impressionist cinema—earthy, erotic, dust-filled.

No one who knows all this about Parks would be surprised to find that even in his late eighties he was experimenting with computer-generated imagery and finishing his last book, the just published A Hungry Heart. The comedian Franklyn Ajaye has a routine that ends, "They don't make 'em like that anymore. They never did.'' When they come as self-made as Parks, that tells the tale.


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