Biography

Gordon Parks (b. 1912, Fort Scott, Kansas, US; d. 2006, New York City, New York, US) was one of the most important photographers of twentieth-century America. Committed to social equality, he saw photography as a tool to move people to action and change lives.

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Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912, Parks was drawn to photography as a young man when he saw images of migrant workers published in a magazine. After buying a camera at a pawnshop, at the age of 25, he taught himself how to use it. Despite his lack of professional training, Parks found employment with the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which was then chronicling the nation’s social conditions. Parks quickly developed a style that would make him one of the most celebrated photographers of his age, allowing him to break the colour line in professional photography while creating remarkably expressive images that consistently explored the social and economic impact of racism.

When the FSA closed in 1943, Parks became a freelance photographer, balancing work for fashion magazines with his passion for documenting humanitarian issues. His 1948 photo essay on the life of a Harlem gang leader won him widespread acclaim and a position as the first African American staff photographer and writer for Life, then by far the most prominent photojournalist publication in the world. Parks would remain at Life for two decades, chronicling subjects related to racism and poverty, as well as taking memorable portraits of cultural figures, including Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and Stokely Carmichael. His most famous images, such as Emerging Man (1952) and American Gothic (1942) capture the essence of activism and humanitarianism in mid-twentieth century America. His works also rallied support for the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, for which Parks himself was a tireless advocate as well as a documentarian.

Parks’s style continued to evolve throughout three decades of his life expanding his style; he worked up until his death in 2006. During his lifetime Parks received numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts in 1988, and over fifty honorary doctorates. He was also a noted composer and author and, in 1969, became the first African American to write and direct a Hollywood feature film based on his bestselling novel, The Learning Tree. In 1971, this was followed by the hugely successful motion picture Shaft.

Parks has had solo exhibitions at Mobile Museum of Art, Alabama, US (2021); Museum of Modern Art, New York, US (2020); The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, US (2020); Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, US (2020); J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, US (2019); The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, US (2019); Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, US (2019); National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, US (2018–19); Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, Frankfurt, Germany (2017–18); Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, US (2016); The Art Institute of Chicago, US (2016); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, US (2015); High Museum of Art, Atlanta, US (2014); New Orleans Museum of Art, US (2013–14); and The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, US (2012–13).

His work has been acquired by major museums, including The Art Institute of Chicago, US; Baltimore Museum of Art, US; Cincinnati Art Museum, US; Detroit Institute of Art, US; International Center of Photography, New York, US; The Met, New York, US; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, US; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, US; MoMA, New York, US; National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, US; Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, US; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, US.

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Works

American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942

Silver Gelatin Print
paper size: 25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in); framed: 45.2 x 37.8 cm (17 3/4 x 14 7/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Man Emerging, Harlem, New York, 1952

Silver Gelatin Print
paper size: 40.6 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in); framed: 51.9 x 66.5 cm (20 3/8 x 26 1/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1952

Silver Gelatin Print
paper size: 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in); framed: 66.7 x 51.9 cm (26 1/4 x 20 3/8 x in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama, 1956

Archival Pigment Print
paper size: 114.4 x 114.4 cm (45 1/8 x 45 1/8 in); framed: 117.2 x 117.2 cm (46 1/8 x 46 1/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-Shopping, Mobile, Alabama, 1956

Archival Pigment Print
paper size: 106.7 x 106.7 cm (42 x 42 in); framed: 108.8 x 108.8 cm (42 7/8 x 42 7/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Untitled, Alabama, 1956

Archival Pigment Print
paper size: 54 x 75.4 cm (21 1/4 x 29 11/16 in); framed: 57 x 78.4 cm (22 7/16 x 30 7/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Untitled, New York, New York, 1957

Archival Pigment Print
50.8 x 61 cm (20 x 24 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1957

Archival Pigment Print
paper size: 61 x 50.8 cm (24 x 20 in); framed: 77.8 x 59.4 cm (30 5/8 x 23 3/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1963

Silver Gelatin Print
paper size: 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in); framed: 44.9 x 56.1 cm (17 5/8 x 22 1/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Untitled, Washington, D.C., 1963

Archival Pigment Print
paper size: 40.6 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in); framed: 52.6 x 67.5 cm (20 3/4 x 26 5/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Daily Prayer, Brooklyn, New York, 1963

Silver Gelatin Print
paper size: 35.6 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11 in); framed: 53.9 x 44.2 cm (21 1/4 x 17 3/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1963

Archival Pigment Print
paper size: 76.2 x 101.6 cm (30 x 40 in); framed: 87 x 116.4 cm (34 1/4 x 45 7/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Boy with June Bug, Fort Scott, Kansas, 1963

Archival Pigment Print
paper size: 40.6 x 50.8 cm (16 x 20 in); framed: paper size 51.9 x 66.5 cm (20 3/8 x 26 1/8 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Boy at Carnival, Fort Scott, Kansas, 1963

Archival Pigment Print
paper size: 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in); framed: 66.7 x 51.9 cm (26 1/4 x 20 3/8 x in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Muhammad Ali, Miami Beach, Florida, 1966

Silver gelatin print
Framed: 35.6 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11 in); framed: 48.2 x 40 cm (19 x 15 3/4 in)
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

Eldridge Cleaver and His Wife, Kathleen, Algiers, Algeria, 1970

Archival Pigment Print
paper size: 76.2 x 61 cm (30 x 24 in); framed: 78.4 x 57.2 cm (30 7/8 x 22 1/2 in)
Courtesy: © The Gordon Parks Foundation

  • American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942
  • Man Emerging, Harlem, New York, 1952
  • Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1952
  • Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama, 1956
  • Ondria Tanner and Her Grandmother Window-Shopping, Mobile, Alabama, 1956
  • Untitled, Alabama, 1956
  • Untitled, New York, New York, 1957
  • Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1957
  • Untitled, Chicago, Illinois, 1963
  • Untitled, Washington, D.C., 1963
  • Daily Prayer, Brooklyn, New York, 1963
  • Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1963
  • Boy with June Bug, Fort Scott, Kansas, 1963
  • Boy at Carnival, Fort Scott, Kansas, 1963
  • Muhammad Ali, Miami Beach, Florida, 1966
  • Eldridge Cleaver and His Wife, Kathleen, Algiers, Algeria, 1970

Press

Gordon Parks Was the Godfather of Cool

Guy Trebay, The New York Times

February 2021

The Word at MoMA Is Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

Roberta Smith, The New York Times

November 2020

The Work and Legacy of The Gordon Parks Foundation

Yínká Elújọba, The Brooklyn Rail

October 2020

Review: Gordon Parks, Alison Jacques Gallery

Daniel Culpan, Artforum

October 2020

On My Radar: Indira Varma’s Cultural Highlights

Indira Varma, The Guardian

September 2020

Review: Gordon Parks, Alison Jacques Gallery

Caroline Douglas, Contemporary Art Society

September 2020

Gordon Parks Captured a Different Side of Muhammad Ali

Belle Hutton, AnOther

September 2020

My Life With Muhammad Ali

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, The Telegraph

August 2020

Gordon Parks Humanized Those Seen as Criminals

Sebastian Smee, The Washington Post

August 2020

Gordon Parks and The Politics of Colour

Candice Nembhard, Frieze

August 2020

The Faces of Injustice

Waldemar Januszczak, The Sunday Times

July 2020

Tools for Change

Aesthetica

July 2020

Review: Gordon Parks, Alison Jacques Gallery

Laura Cumming, The Observer

July 2020

Gordon Parks’s Segregated America

Balasz Takac, Widewalls

July 2020

Gordon Parks Captured a Changing America

Caroline Goldstein, Artnet News

July 2020

Chilling Photographs of Racism in America’s Segregated South

Cal Revely-Calder, The Daily Telegraph

July 2020

Gordon Parks on the Power of Photography

Belle Hutton, AnOther Magazine

July 2020

Police Raids and Urban Crime Revealed in Incredible Photos by Gordon Parks

Frances Mulraney and Tate Delloye, Daily Mail

June 2020

How Artists Have Championed Black Liberation

Miss Rosen, Dazed

June 2020

When Crime Photography Started to See Color

Bill Shapiro, The Atlantic

June 2020

The Understated Mastery of Gordon Parks

Abby Schultz, Barron’s

June 2020

Gordon Parks’s Photos Reflect the Long History of Police Brutality in the US

Daria Harper, Artsy

June 2020

Gordon Parks Upended Stereotypes of Policing in America

Tom Seymour, The Art Newspaper

June 2020

We Are Family: The Directors

A.O. Scott, The New York Times Style Magazine

April 2020

Segregation, Poverty and the American Way

Emma Broomfield, The Sunday Times Magazine

March 2020

Muhammad Ali Sets a Stylish Tone for a Gordon Parks Exhibition

Baya Simons, Financial Times: How To Spend It

March 2020

Life Magazine: The Photos that Defined the US

Aida Amoako, BBC

March 2020

Early Work Of Gordon Parks On View At Addison Gallery of American Art

Chadd Scott, Forbes

March 2020

MoMA Acquires Historic Gordon Parks Series

Helen Stoilas, The Art Newspaper

February 2020

Gordon Parks Went to Rio to Save a Boy’s Life

Sebastian Smee, The Washington Post

October 2019

The Images of Poverty that Sparked a Firestorm in the 1960s

Jordan Riefe, Observer

July 2019

We’re Talking About Gordon Parks … and We Can Dig It

Maurice Berger, The New York Times

May 2019

Review: Gordon Parks, National Gallery of Art

Nico Wheadon, The Brooklyn Rail

February 2019

What Gordon Parks Witnessed

David Rowell, The Washington Post

December 2018

Gordon Parks’s Early Years

Sebastian Smee, The Washington Post

November 2018

How Gordon Parks Became Gordon Parks

James Estrin, The New York Times

October 2018

Iconic Encounter: Michael Lobel on Gordon Parks and Ella Watson

Michael Lobel, Artforum

October 2018

The Cinematic Images of Gordon Parks

Maurice Berger, The New York Times

August 2017

The Life and Times of Gordon Parks

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December 2016

Gordon Parks Obituary

Christopher Reed, The Guardian

March 2006

Exhibitions

Gordon Parks: Part Two

1 September1 October 2020

Gordon Parks: Part One

1 July8 August 2020

Books

The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957

Gordon Parks

2020

Gordon Parks x Muhammad Ali

Steidl

2019

Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950

Steidl

2018

Gordon Parks: I AM YOU

Steidl

2016

Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem

Steidl

2016

Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument

Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / New Orleans Museum of Art

2013

Gordon Parks: Collected Works

Steidl

2012

A Choice of Weapons

Gordon Parks

2010

A Hungry Heart: A Memoir

Gordon Parks

2005

Eyes with Winged Thoughts

Gordon Parks

2005

News

Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime”

MoMA, New York

Gordon Parks

Tribeca Film Festival, New York

Gordon Parks, 'Muhammad Ali in Training, Miami Beach, Florida', 1966. © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Gordon Parks: Gordon Parks x Muhammad Ali: The Image of a Champion

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas

Gordon Parks: The New Tide

Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Texas

Gordon Parks, 'Catacumba Favela, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil', 1961. © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Gordon Parks: The Flávio Story

The Getty Museum, California

Gordon Parks: Selections from the Dean Collection

The Hutchins Center, Harvard University, Massachusetts

Gordon Parks, 'Tenement Dwellers, Chicago', 1950. © The Gordon Parks Foundation

Gordon Parks: The New Tide

The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio

Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC