Half Past Paris

Embark on Gordon Parks' extraordinary photographic journey, capturing the essence of life's complexities

Model in a Silk Dress and Shawl, Vogue (1963-02-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

Gordon Parks, the pioneering Black photographer, considered the city of Paris—which he first got to know on a 1952 work trip for Life magazine—to be his great muse. 

Two Models in Silk Dresses, Vogue (1963-02-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

The capital, he explained in Half Past Autumn, the 2000 documentary on his life and work, “became my beautiful mistress, seducing me with the color and compositions of Degas… and other masterful artists. Gradually it would influence all my work, especially in fashion.”

Two Models in Silk Dresses and Cloaks, Vogue (1963-02-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

Paris, like Oz, was far away from Kansas, where Parks was born, in 1912. After leaving home at a young age, he worked a variety of jobs to get by, from playing piano in a brothel to touring with a semi-pro basketball team. 

Black and White Alligator Skin and Linen Boots, Vogue (1964-07-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

In 1937, Parks, traveling by train, had a layover in the Windy City while on his way to Seattle.

He killed time by visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and a movie theater, where he watched a newsreel on the sinking of the U.S.S. Panay. Inspired by both experiences, Parks bought a Voigtländer Brilliant camera and started shooting landscapes and documenting the world around him.

Model in a Pink Wool Bikini Top and Orange and Pink Wool Pants, Vogue, Gordon Parks, 1965-11-15, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
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Model in a Wool Miniskirt and Boots, Vogue, Gordon Parks, 1965-11-15, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
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Veruschka in a Rainbow Print Gown by Trigère, Vogue (1965-03-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

By 1939 he was working for the St. Paul Recorder/Spokesman Recorder, and in 1942 he was hired by Roy Stryker to take part in documenting America during the aftermath of the Great Depression, for the Farm Security Administration.

Two Models in Geoffrey Beene Standing in Front of a Tiffany Glass Screen, Vogue (1965-03-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

Parks was an acclaimed documentary and fashion photographer

Some of his success in the latter field was achieved by transferring techniques from one genre to another; considering fashion shoots as a different kind of creative documentation, in which he moved as the model did, shooting slowly. 

“Taking your chances, getting her in focus, keeping her in focus, and moving with her. And that’s what I did,” Parks recalled of his process, in Half Past Autumn.

Veruschka in a Burke-Amey Dress in Front of a Tiffany Glass Screen, Vogue, Gordon Parks, 1965-03-01, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
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Model in a Geoffrey Beene Art Nouveau Inspired Dress, Vogue, Gordon Parks, 1965-03-01, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
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In 1963, Parks used a story on blushers, in the February 1st issue of Vogue, to capture the early flowerings of the psychedelic movement. 

Two Models in Silk Dresses, Vogue (1963-02-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

The photographer placed the models who posed for “Seven Women With the Grace to Blush” in a softly focused dreamscape, with a palette that might have been found in an Impressionist painter’s atelier.

Model in a Wave-Printed Sleeveless Dress, Vogue, Gordon Parks, 1965-11-15, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
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Model in a Black-and-White Striped Ensemble, Vogue (1964-07-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

Always open to adventure, Parks, in search of “the dashing new reptiles,” traveled to Africa and went on safari for Vogue in 1964. 

Red and Yellow Snakeskin Shoes, Vogue (1964-07-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

The story he brought back to the magazine’s editors and to his longtime friend Alexander Liberman, Condé Nast’s editorial director, was a perfect melding of accessories, landscape, and culture—not to mention a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a lion. 

Lion and Shoes, Vogue (1964-07-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

With this shoot, Parks seemed to perfectly balance his instincts as a photojournalist with his desire for creative expression.

Reptile-Skin Shoes, Vogue (1964-07-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

For the next 40 years, Parks would continue to photograph a changing America.

Model in Nat Kaplan Ensemble, Vogue (1965-10-01) by Gordon ParksCondé Nast Archive

He also became the first African American to write and direct a major-studio film, based on his book, The Learning Tree. Parks, who had so many accomplishments to be proud of, counted his time at Vogue among them.

Mirella Petteni in Adele Simpson Dress, Vogue, Gordon Parks, 1965-10-01, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
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Model in a Top and Pants by Jean Louis, Vogue, Gordon Parks, 1965-03-01, From the collection of: Condé Nast Archive
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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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