Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Friday, March 10, 2006

Gordon Parks, 1912-2006


Malcolm X, photographed by Gordon Parks, 1963.

As well as directing the pioneering black film Shaft, Gordon Parks was a legendary photographer for LIFE magasine among other things. There is an interesting site with lots of his photos here, with comments about the featured photos. It also includes some biographical details. 'At 16, Parks found himself homeless and did everything he could do make money, from waiting tables to playing piano in a brothel to mopping floors. As Parks tells it, his first foray into photography came after he found a magazine left behind by a passenger on a train. A portfolio inside the magazine, documenting the terrible living conditions of migrant workers inspired Parks to buy his first camera, a Voightlander Brilliant, at a pawnshop in Seattle. "I bought what was to become my weapon against poverty and racism"'

Once established, Parks 'worked tirelessly and singlemindedly, and from the Forties through the Seventies he covered the major themes of each decade for LIFE magazine: social injustice, overwhelming poverty in the U.S. as well as in Brazil and Portugal, gang violence, the civil rights movement, and segregation in the Deep South. Though Parks's awareness of race, racism and hatred is a constant thread found through much of his work, this theme was juxtaposed early on with his expanding talent as a fashion photographer for Vogue, where he covered the Paris shows for several years. "The camera is not meant to just show misery," Parks says. "You can show beauty with it; you can do a lot of things. You can show things you like about the universe, things you hate about the universe. It's capable of doing both."'

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