Gordon Parks was born in 1912 in Kansas and is a very accomplished gentleman – he was the first African American to work at Life magazine where he wrote and took photographs for 20 years. Some of these photos were of people like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, who asked Parks to be the godfather of his daughter. Parks also became one of the first African Americans to ever shoot for Vogue, later co-founding the popular magazine Essence..
He then set his sights on film and directed Shaft (1971) – yes that Shaft, the one starring Richard Roundtree as a private detective who travels through Harlem and deals with the Italian Mob to locate a missing girl. Though considered part of the blaxploitation genre, which is literally the conjoining of the two words ‘black’ and ‘exploitation,’ Shaft was selected in 2000 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Despite the problems and perpetuation of certain stereotypes in the film, it was important to its time as Parks was the first African American to write, direct, and score a Hollywood film..
Parks took a series of photos called The Restraints: Open and Hidden in which he captured the lives of three families living in Mobile, Alabama in 1956. These powerful images of daily live in the civil rights era were long forgotten after all his success. The photos were rediscovered in 2012, six years after Parks died of cancer at the age of 93.
Now, a total of 40 prints are on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia from now until June 7th, 2015, and if you’re not lucky enough to be headed down to the peach capital, you can see some of the rare photos below.
Sad and beautiful all at once.