Known internationally as a photographer of social justice issues, Gordon Parks was also a celebrated fashion photographer for magazine such as Life, Vogue and Glamour.
Mastering documentary work and fashion photography
His success as a photojournalist and fashion photographer proved to have a symbiotic relationship. As Roy Stryker of the FSA so presciently put it to Parks: "Someday those fashion photographs may save your life...You do whatever you can with photography to advance yourself, you will need it."
As a working photographer, being able to supplement his documentary work with fashion photography so effectively made it so he would always be able to find work in times of uncertainty in job security. His background in both fashion and documentary photography would set him apart and prove to make him an asset at Life, making his acclaimed career at the magazine possible. Working with fashion helped to inform Parks' overall style as a photographer. While he is today best known for his artful and intimate portraits of race relations, poverty, civil rights, and urban life, he is still heralded as a leading figure in mid-twentieth century fashion photography.
"The early days in Kansas gave me a good sense of color, a sense of earth, a sense of feeling – a feeling for trees, light and the late light of the day. I had a natural instinct for using that in my work. And I think that was the difference from the others who used the fancy light in studios. In the first place, it was a lot less expensive to work outside and I didn’t need all the assistants that those guys needed to place lights. I took a model and an editor out; we went to a spot and had all the beauty in the world to work with. You couldn’t build those sets. That’s the way I started doing it."
The Gordon Parks Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks, makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media, and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Parks described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.”
Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Executive Director, The Gordon Parks Foundation; Amanda Smith, Assistant Director, The Gordon Parks Foundation; James Jordan, Collections Manager, The Gordon Parks Foundation; Brigid Slattery, Archive Assistant, The Gordon Parks Foundation.
Photographs by Gordon Parks © 2016 The Gordon Parks Foundation
Quotes by Gordon Parks from interview with Martin H. Bush, Copyright 1983,The Photographs of Gordon Parks, Wichita State University.