“The guy who takes a chance, who walks the line between the known and unknown, who is unafraid of failure, will succeed.’ Gordon Parks

For much of the mid-1900s, it seemed like the world learned about Black America through the eyes of Gordon Parks. His creative endeavors were astoundingly versatile. Parks performed as a jazz pianist, composed musical scores, wrote 15 books and co-founded Essence magazine.

He adapted his novel “The Learning Tree” into a 1969 film, becoming the first African American to direct a movie for a major studio, and later directed “Shaft,” a hit film that spawned the Blaxploitation genre.

But he reached his artistic peak as a photographer, and his intimate photos of African American life are his most enduring legacy.

After buying a camera from a pawn shop at 25, Parks began snapping away. His images of life on Chicago’s South Side in the early 1940s won him a job documenting rural poverty for the federal government.

Parks’ photos evoked the humanity of his subjects, inspiring empathy and activism. A 1948 photo essay about a Harlem gang leader landed him a gig as Life magazine’s first Black staff photographer.

In the decades that followed, Parks traveled the country capturing iconic images of the segregated South, the civil rights movement and such figures as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. His images now grace the permanent collections of major art museums.

Parks famously called the camera his “weapon of choice,” a tool to fight poverty, racism and other societal ills. As Parks once put it to an interviewer, “I pointed my camera at people mostly who needed someone to say something for them”

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