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.
[ ]…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.
His success as a photographer was largely due to his persistence and persuasiveness in pursuing his subjects, whether they were film stars and socialites or an impoverished slum child in Brazil.
Mr. Parks’s years as a contributor to Life, the largest-circulation picture magazine of its day, lasted from 1948 to 1972, and it cemented his reputation as a humanitarian photojournalist and as an artist with an eye for elegance. He specialized in subjects relating to racism, poverty and black urban life, but he also took exemplary pictures of Paris fashions, celebrities and politicians.
Apprenticed as photographer at Farm Security Administration in Washington, D.C. (1942-43); photographed African-American 332nd Fighter Group for Office of War Information (1944). Worked as corporate photographer for Standard Oil Company in New Jersey (1945-48); also freelanced for Vogue and Glamour. Photo-essay on Harlem gang life led to position at Life magazine in 1948; remained on staff of magazine until 1972, working as reporter and photojournalist. Founded and served as editorial director of Essence magazine (1970-73). Produced documentary films including Diary of a Harlem Family (1968); wrote, produced, and directed The Learning Tree (1969), and directed Shaft (1971), Shaft’s Big Score (1972), The Super Cops (1974), Leadbelly (1976), Solomon Northrup’s Odysssey (1984), and Moments Without Proper Names (1986). Author of technical books Flash Photography (1947) and Camera Portraits: The Techniques and Principles of Documentary Portraiture (1948); novels The Learning Tree (1963) and Shannon (1981); memoirs A Choice of Weapons (1968), To Smile in Autumn (1979), and Voices in the Mirror (1990); photo-illustrated books of poetry A Poet and His Camera (1968), Whispers of Intimate Things (1971), In Love (1971), Moments Without Proper Names (1975), and Glimpses Toward Infinity (1996); and an essay collection, Born Black (1971). Lives in New York City.
HT to Bad Attitudes for this post at BeggarsCanBeChoosers, Global Corporatism: The Human Being As A Statistic
In 1962, American journalist Eugene Lyons, author of the 1937 nonfiction classic Assignment in Utopia, gave a lecture about what turned him from a pro-Leninist radical in 1928, when he took a news job in the Soviet Union, into the conservative, fiercely anti-communist Reader’s Digest editor he became years later.
“It was … the appalling contempt for human life which I found to be the hallmark of communism in practice. For I found myself in a world where such age-old concepts as justice, conscience, human dignity, the values that set man apart from the beasts, were despised as a species of treason. …
“Do men and women have an intrinsic worth, or are they merely the raw stuff for building some dehumanized state structure? Is the human being the final measure of all things, or merely a statistic?”
Two generations have passed since Lyons gave that talk, and the Soviet empire has been, as conservatives say, “on the ashheap of history,” for going on two decades.
A great irony is how true this sounds for 2006 if one substitutes “global capitalism” for “communism” and “corporate structure” for “state structure.” Communism is all but dead; yet, in our new world economy, dehumanization seems very much alive and on the march. The biggest difference is that the perpetrators’ flag isn’t red.
Lyons died in 1985, so he didn’t even see glasnost, let alone the self-destruction of Marxism-Leninism. It would be interesting if he could ask the former employees of Enron how they have enjoyed becoming destitute statistics, or former call-center staffers how much human dignity they were afforded when their jobs were offshored.
True, we don’t have gulags. There are no party purges, at least none in which anybody dies very soon. People don’t vanish in the middle of the night (although their jobs often disappear in the middle of the day). But there are slow, subtle ways of killing people. Michael Moore has vividly illustrated, in his examinations of the effects of General Motors’ style of capitalism on his hometown of Flint, Michigan, that when a corporation discards much of its workforce for the sake of profits: “Crime goes up, suicide goes up, drug abuse, alcoholism, spousal abuse, divorce, everything bad spirals up.”
In response, local leaders have wondered why Iraqis living in the U.S. were given this right, yet African-Americans are not. “[Louisiana] had all kinds of excuses why that couldn’t happen,” New Orleans City Council President Oliver M. Thomas Jr. said. “But the Iraqi people voted [at satellite offices]. Why can’t we do that for all of our voters?“
The 15-member panel agreed, over strong Democratic objections that the limited size of the group means Congress will be writing laws in the dark. “Our committee has to be fully informed if we are to guide the legislative debate on this program that is fast approaching,” Rockefeller said.
The growing call for legislation has added pressure on the Bush administration to go along, and the White House indicated a broad approval for DeWine’s bill.
“We think it is a generally sound measure,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. “We have said we are committed to working with Congress on legislation that would further codify into law the president’s authority to detect and prevent potential attacks.”
Yet even as legislation is drafted, lawmakers are pressing for more details about the surveillance.
Conservatives are leading the charge to write legislation about a program; a program that they do not have details of, even though current laws requires that they be provided such details. The president and the attorney general have previously said they already have authority to carry out warrantless domestic spying programs, yet the administration is, ” working with Congress on legislation that would further codify into law the president’s authority”. Even a casual follower of the NSA controversy can see the doubletalk in play. The president claims authority he doesn’t have, but would like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
It appears that a core group of conservatives aren’t happy with the way things are, but in what can only be described at best as misplaced party loyalty, Chuck Hagel and others are willing to make this all go away for the Whitehouse by giving them retroactive permission to violate the law. Senate Republicans block investigation into eavesdropping. Specter seems the only roadblock between the erosion of legislative branch powers and and the newly institutionalized president as monarch model of government.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that he might try to withhold funds for the surveillance program if the administration didn’t give his committee more information about it. Specter has extra clout because he also sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee.”We’re having quite a time in getting responses to questions as to what has happened with the electronic surveillance program,” Specter said at an appropriations committee hearing. “I want to put the administration on notice and this committee on notice that I may be looking for an amendment to limit funding as to the electronic surveillance program – which is the power of the purse – if we can’t get an answer in any other way.”
Senators Roberts of Kansas and Snowe of Maine seem to think that the presidents prerogatives should be served at the expense of the nations laws and principles. Despite any claims to moderation the stench of weak spined pretend patriots is once again reached into its grab bag of fear at the expence of American ideals and courage. I wonder how the people of Kansas and Maine feel about being thought of as cowards by their senators. The boogie man is gonna get you all if they don’t let the president subject the Constitution of the United States of America to the death of a thousand little cuts. Roberts especially is trying to wrap his betrayal of the people of Kansas in the flag and he may very well succeed if patriotic Americans just do nothing. I wonder when the people of Kansas ( Roberts), Maine(Snowe), and Nebraska(Hagel) will wake from their lethargy. What does it take exactly, Bush burning a copy of the Bill of Rights on the steps of the Lincoln memorial ?
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost