Photographs by Gordon Parks
Gordon Parks created some of the most iconic images in American history, using his camera lens to focus on race relations, civil rights, poverty, and urban life, from the early 1940s until his death in 2006.
Born in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912, Parks was first drawn to photography after seeing images of migrant workers in a magazine. He bought his first camera from a pawnshop, at the age of 25, and taught himself how to use it. In 1941, he joined the Farm Security Administration, chronicling the plight of poor farmers.
The FSA shut down soon after, but Parks took what is perhaps his most famous photograph during his brief stint there. Titled “American Gothic,” after the famous Grant Wood painting, the portrait of Ella Watson shows the black cleaning woman stiffly holding a broom in the government building she worked in, the American flag and a mop behind her.
Parks had been inspired by the anger he felt upon experiencing bigotry in segregated Washington, D.C., where he had been denied service at a clothing store, a movie theater, and a restaurant.
After the FSA, Parks became a freelance photographer, shooting for fashion magazines such as Vogue, while documenting the humanitarian issues of the day. In 1948, after a photo essay on a young Harlem gang leader, he became the first African-American staff photographer and writer for Life magazine, working there for 20 years.
Parks became the first African-American to write and direct a Hollywood feature film — “The Learning Tree,” based on his best-selling novel. In 1971, he directed “Shaft,” opening the doors for black directors in Hollywood.
Parks won the National Medal of Arts in 1998, and was awarded more than 50 honorary doctorates. In 1991, in recognition of his body of work, The College of New Rochelle opened the Gordon A. Parks Gallery and Cultural Arts Center at its John Cardinal O’Connor Campus in the South Bronx. The College also granted him an honorary degree in 1992.
The Center serves the campus and the community through a variety of multicultural activities, including art exhibits, lectures, poetry readings, and musical events. Works by Parks and his daughter, Toni Parks, have been exhibited at the Center.
The 10 black-and-white photographs by Gordon Parks in the College’s permanent collection were donated by the artist in 1991.