20th century Kansas photographer honored.

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by JDMvW, May 16, 2022.

  1. Native Kansas Photographer honored.

    Howard University acquires photographic archive from a person from Fort Scott, Kansas -- Gordon Parks.


    He is one of the few from that city to have achieved national prominence for his photography, indeed one of the few Kansans to have done so. He is an honor to his state.

    Of course there are those who think his photography deserves attention for its quality, rather than because of his geographic origins. :rolleyes:

    Fort Scott is otherwise known for a pre-Civil War military post.
    Last edited: May 16, 2022
    mikemorrell and katsone like this.
  2. I'd never heard of Gordon Parks so thanks for bringing his work to my attention. From what I've read and seen, his photography rightly deserves (inter)national attention.

    I found this WP article a good introduction to his work. It also includes a link to his 'virtual views' page at the MOMA.

  3. Yes, a Kansan. That’s surely the elephant in the room.

    [Clue: It’s not always either/or.]
  4. To those who might think this, I’d say…

    Whether it’s his being a Kansan or African American, noting either of these doesn’t detract from the fact that his photography deserves attention as such and for its quality. As a matter of fact, one of the qualities of his photography is its documentation of black experience and segregation itself. I’d tell them there’s no need to try to erase the man’s identity in order to supposedly see his work as “a photographer.” Just as there’s no need to erase the content and import of his photos in order to view their quality.


  5. And, of course, there is no need to erase his contribution to photography to stress his 'blackness' or Kansas ethnicity or anything else other than his talent..

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
    ericphelps likes this.
  6. Absolutely. Did someone try to do that?
    MLK was a pretty smart guy. He said he wanted his kids not to be judged by the color of their skin. I suspect he knew, though, that the color of his skin was part of his identity and he would be understood, in part, in that light, just as Parks and just as King’s four kids. Given the lives of King’s kids, I think they’ve already answered that question.

    My guess would be that MLK, Parks, and the kids dream(ed) of a world free of bigotry, not free of identity, a world where they could be free in their color not free of their color.
  7. I'm always a little surprised when photographers don't know who Gordon Parks is (was). He was something of a hero to me in my youth, as a Life Magazine photographer. Until Life went out of business, photojournalism had pretty much been my ultimate photography ambition. There were two other connections. First, I learned the basics of flash use, with a flash gun and solenoid to trip the shutter, from his 1947 (?) book on flash photography. (My father was an amateur photographer who had the book.) And second, my first camera, a used Voigtlander Brillant, a present when I was perhaps 10 or 11 years old, was the same as Parks started out with.

    Some people might know of Parks through some of his movies, such as Shaft, or the Learning Tree, or even Leadbelly. As a still photographer I was a little disappointed when he moved to motion pictures.

    In later years I learned about how hard his earlier years were. He remains, to the best of my knowledge, the only famous photographer who ever spent time as the proverbial piano player in a whorehouse. He did this, as I recall, for a place to stay after being turned out onto the street, as a teenager, during winter in the "Twin Cities", Minnesota.

    One thing I especially admired about Parks was that if he didn't think it was "proper" to photograph someone, say in a disadvantaged position, he simply wouldn't do it. Even though he is potentially losing a so-called scoop.

    Fwiw there used to be some voice clips of Parks talking about certain photos on the digitaljournalist.org site. The founder died recently, and the website now seems to be defunct. But I think copies may be found on archive.org for anyone who cares to dig a bit.
  8. Anyway, count Parks himself among those who consider his origins part of his photography …

    Parks speaks for himself:

    “The main thing about my coming up in Kansas is the simplicity of line … because I can remember the great plains of Kansas and the single road coming up amongst the great prairie.”

    “Racism, bigotry, poverty, I wouldn’t want any kid to suffer what I’ve suffered, but I have no regrets because whatever I’ve suffered has made me whatever I’ve become.”

    movingfinger likes this.
  9. Many thanks for these videoclips @samstevens! The more I read and watch videos about Gordon Parks, the more I realize what a remarkable, authentic, and multi-talented person he was. Three things remain with me:
    - he channeled all his anger and frustration from his upbringing into something positive
    - he took photos that he preferred not to have taken but did so anyway because he felt that they were important
    - he remained relatively 'humble' about his contribution to (video)photography

    I assume that his photo reportages in 'Time magazine' did much to 'humanize' the experience of Black people living in the US. However, I read that the subtitles of his photos were skewed toward the pre-conceptions of White middle-class readers. It says a lot for Gordon Parks that he still continued to contribute to Time Magazine.

  10. If any proof were needed that irony doesn't present well on the internet... well.

    Some people are so very literal-minded.
  11. Great videos, Sam.

    There is a brief biography found at this link...
    Gordon Parks, Extraordinary Photojournalist

    It's too bad that digitaljournalist.org isn't up because it was a site about photojournalists by photojournalists (and their support staffs). So there would be certain insights that one would not get from more traditional "coverage."
    samstevens likes this.
  12. rws


    Thanks JDMvW and others; as I native Kansan I agree that Gordon Parks brings honor to the state. I learned photography in Kansas about 50 years ago and his photos were among those that first inspired me.
    robert_bowring and Ricochetrider like this.
  13. I am a sunflower from the sunflower state myself. My intent was to comment on the unceasing note we always hear for any person of a "background" of one sort or another about... "The first of his kind.." and so on.

    I do agree that Parks origins in the state are also relevant

    For a tragic, but moving, novel about growing up in Kansas see
    Thompson, Earl
    A Garden of Sand (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1970; Paperback editions: Carroll & Graf, 1991 & 2001)

    quote "Love a place like Kansas and you can be content in a garden of raked sand."
  14. First off, that part of your ironic message got through, so I don’t want you to think it was your irony that failed. True, that tone of voice can be lost on the Internet but in this case, it was not.

    Now, consider the deeper irony of your introduction. By commenting on the unceasing note we always hear about background, you actually drew attention to that background yourself. Think how much more effective and validating of your intended message it would have been to practice what you’re preaching and to have cleanly introduced Parks as the great photographer he is.

    No doubt, his background would have come up, as it deserved to and as you, yourself, saw fit to, but at least your own hands would have been clean from what you find unceasing.
  15. If you say so.
  16. Many people of ALL skin colours have had to overcome challenging backgrounds in this world.
  17. "Many people of ALL skin colours have had to overcome challenging backgrounds in this world" za33

    Indeed, but skin colour ,sexual orientation, really should not be anything to overcome.

    Sad, that we still judge.

Share This Page