March 8, 2006
Source: The New York Times
Written by Andy Grundberg
Gordon Parks, the photographer, filmmaker, writer and composer who used his prodigious, largely self-taught talents to chronicle the African-American experience and to retell his own personal history, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.
His death was announced by Genevieve Young, his former wife and executor. Gordon Parks was the first African-American to work as a staff photographer for Life magazine and the first black artist to produce and direct a major Hollywood film, “The Learning Tree,” in 1969.
He developed a large following as a photographer for Life for more than 20 years, and by the time he was 50 he ranked among the most influential image makers of the postwar years. In the 1960′s he began to write memoirs, novels, poems and screenplays, which led him to directing films. In addition to “The Learning Tree,” he directed the popular action films “Shaft” and “Shaft’s Big Score!” In 1970 he helped found Essence magazine and was its editorial director from 1970 to 1973.
An iconoclast, Mr. Parks fashioned a career that resisted categorization. No matter what medium he chose for his self-expression, he sought to challenge stereotypes while still communicating to a large audience. In finding early acclaim as a photographer despite a lack of professional training, he became convinced that he could accomplish whatever he set his mind to. To an astonishing extent, he proved himself right.
Gordon Parks developed his ability to overcome barriers in childhood, facing poverty, prejudice and the death of his mother when he was a teen-ager. Living by his wits during what would have been his high-school years, he came close to being claimed by urban poverty and crime. But his nascent talent, both musical and visual, was his exit visa.
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