Authored by Caitlyn Daddona
On May 18th, 2007 Marymount Manhattan College held a commencement ceremony to celebrate the graduating class of 2007. Honored in the ceremony were individuals who had contributed to society and one such individual was Gordon Parks. Almost a year before the Marymount Manhattan College Commencement where Gordon Parks was to receive an Honorary Degree for his commitment to portraying the faces of poverty, race relations and civil rights in his photography, he died at the age of 93 (Grundberg 2006). His son, David Parks, received the degree in his father’s place.
Gordon Parks was a revolutionary photojournalist who exposed the truth behind racial injustice and poverty from the 1940s to the 1970s and fought against traditional black American roles (Fulleylove, n.d.). Born in 1912 in Fort Scott Kansas, he was the youngest of 15 children (Bullock 2020). His passion for photography was born from witnessing images of migrant workers in a magazine while he was working as a waiter in a railroad dining car (Fulleylove, n.d.).
Parks began his career as a self-taught photographer who captured the beauty of Chicago socialite Marva Louis (National Gallery of Art 2021). As he continued photographing other prominent African Americans, Mr. Parks shifted his camera to capture the injustices that normal black Americans experienced (National Gallery of Art 2021). As a black American who grew up during Jim Crow segregation, Gordon Parks knew firsthand about the hidden poverty and civil and racial disparity that existed in America (Bullock 2020).
In 1948, Parks was hired by Life magazine where he pioneered a series of photographs depicting the gang wars occurring in Harlem at the time (Steidl 2013). It was his belief that “if he could draw attention to the problem then perhaps it would be addressed” (Steidl 2013, para. 1). It was during this time in his life that some of his most famous and heart wrenching photographs were taken. Pictures like The Fontenelles at the Poverty Board and Outside Looking In showed normal African Americans experiencing the segregation and ill-treatment that was common (Fulleylove, n.d.).
Gordon Parks gave a face and voice to the people suffering the most from poverty and racial injustices. As he explains, “I chose my camera as a weapon against all the things I dislike about America-poverty, racism, discrimination” (Bullock 2020, para. 1). In his later years, Gordon Parks continued to push against the traditional African America roles within society and he became the first African American to write and direct a major Hollywood film, titled The Learning Tree (The Gordon Parks Foundation, n.d.). His work as a humanitarian and a warrior against discrimination and poverty has been recognized by many, including Marymount Manhattan College. Gordon Parks has received more than fifty honorary doctorate degrees and countless awards (The Gordon Parks Foundation, n.d.).
Bullock, River. 2020. “Gordon Parks: American, 1912-2006.” https://www.moma.org/artists/8083#fnref:1.
Fulleylove, Rebecca. n.d. “7 Gordon Parks Images that Changed American Attitudes.” Accessed March 7, 2021. https://artsandculture.google.com/theme/7-gordon-parks-images-that-changed-american-attitudes/KALyWEH0ykiDIA?hl=en.
Grundberg, Andy. 2006. “Gordon Parks, a Master of the Camera, Dies at 93.” The New York Times, March 7, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/08/arts/design/gordon-parks-a-master-of-the-camera-dies-at-93.html.
National Gallery of Art. 2021. “Gordon Parks Photography.”
Steidl. 2013. “The Making of an Argument.” https://www.gordonparksfoundation.org/publications/gordon-parks/the-making-of-an-argument
The Gordon Parks Foundation. n.d. “Gordon Parks.” Biography. Accessed March 7, 2021. https://www.gordonparksfoundation.org/gordon-parks/biography.