Gordon Parks Remembered

Gordon Parks once called his camera a “weapon against poverty and racism.” His poignant photographs documented all walks of life, from the poor and impoverished of Chicago, to the gangs of Harlem, to the fashions of Paris.

Gordon Parks, FSA/OWI photographer. 1943. Prints and Photographs Division.

Today would have been his 100th birthday. Parks was born on Nov. 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kansas. He died of cancer at the age of 94 on March 7, 2006. Over the course of his professional life, he produced substantive photography for the likes of the Farm Security Administration, Life Magazine and Vogue, wrote books and poetry, composed music and directed movies, two of which – “The Learning Tree” (1969), based on his autobiographical novel, and “Shaft” (1971) – will be preserved for all time as part of the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Not bad for a teenager who was kicked out of his home at age 15 and forced to live by his wits. He worked in brothels, as a singer, a semi-professional basketball player and as a traveling waiter, among other things, all to survive – and to learn.

The photographs he produced for the FSA under the direction of Roy Stryker (1942-1943) and later for the Office of War Information, also under Stryker’s direction (1943-1945), were his first major projects. His images can be found in the Library’s FSA/OWI Black-and-White Negatives collection.

The Gordon Parks volume of the Library’s “Fields of Vision” book series featuring images from the FSA collection is one of the most popular.

One of Parks’ most famous and enduring photos is of Ella Watson, government charwoman.1942. Prints and Photographs Division.

In 1995, the Library acquired his personal collection, including papers, music, photographs, films, recordings, drawings and other products of his long and creative career.

“I wanted all of my work to be under one roof, and I know of no roof I respect more,” he had said when making the donation.

Maricia Battle of the Prints and Photographs Division had the privilege of working with Parks on several occasions while helping to process his collection.

His body of work made him seem “larger than life,” she said. “But he was a real person. He made everyone feel like they belonged.”

Battle said it was vital to Parks to have his work freely available to everyone.

“He understood how important it was not to be housed in a box that no one would see,” she said. “And it’s important that young people and students have an idea that a man with simple beginnings achieved so much. It’s something anyone can do.”

Inquiring Minds: An Interview with Astrobiologist David H. Grinspoon

(The following is a guest post by Jason Steinhauer, a program specialist in the Library’s John W. Kluge Center, as part of the blog series, “Inquiring Minds.”) American astrobiologist David H. Grinspoon began on November 1 as the inaugural Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Library’s John W. Kluge Center. […]

Let’s Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is just a day away, and I’ve been noticing on Facebook, friends posting what they are thankful for this holiday season. Those statuses certainly have given me pause to count my own blessings. First and foremost, I am thankful for my family, who, no matter how far away I am from them, help me […]

Library in the News: October Edition

With the November opening of the new exhibition “The Civil War in America” only a month away, media outlets picked up on the announcement of a new blog featuring historical voices from the war. The Associated Press wrote an announcement that many outlets ran with, including The Washington Post, WTOP, military.com and various broadcast affiliates […]

InRetrospect: October Blogging Edition

Here’s a sampling of some of the highlights in the Library’s blogosphere from October. Teaching with the Library of Congress Voting Rights for Women The Women’s Suffrage primary source set is featured. In Custodia Legis: Law Librarians of Congress Welcome to Our New Front Door: A Revamped Homepage The Law Library of Congress gets a […]

Waste Not, Want Not

While the Civil War imposed hardships on both sides, the South found it particularly difficult to adapt to new realities of daily life. The blockade of Southern seaports and the prohibition of trade with the North quickly depleted food supplies throughout the Confederacy. Farmers became soldiers, and a large percentage of crops were used to […]

Stop the Presses!

With Election Day upon us and votes soon to be counted, the nation waits with bated breath to see who our next president will be. Here in D.C., crowds gather in local bars and pubs, as if it were Monday Night Football, to catch the news of which candidate won what state and taking bets […]

Protocol for One and All

    Etiquette.  We love to make fun of it – from the character Rose Maybud in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Ruddigore” who is constantly consulting her tiny etiquette book (“It’s manners out-of-joint, to point!”) to Vincent Price lecturing his creation “Edward Scissorhands” in the movie of the same name: “Etiquette tells us just what is […]