The 'grit and grace' of pioneering Kansas photographer Gordon Parks
A new biography by friend and author Ann Parr covers the photojournalist's life from his birth in Fort Scott, Kansas, to the pinnacle of his profession.
Ann Parr wasn't expecting a friendship when she wrote photographer Gordon Parks in 2003 requesting an interview — he was the subject of her masters thesis.
"Wrote to him on a Thursday," Parr recalls, "and Sunday afternoon he calls and he says, 'This is Gordon Parks. When are you coming?'"
From then until his death in 2006, Parr and Parks maintained a friendship that provided the impetus for Parr to write the new biography “Grit and Grace: Gordon Parks,” aimed at young adults.
Parks was a groundbreaking photographer, not only for challenging the color barrier of the photography world, but for changing photography itself. On fashion shoots, as the first Black photographer for LIFE Magazine, he would capture models in motion rather than standing still.
Parks' mother died when he was 14, but Parks says "he was driven by his mother's message of, 'Don't come home with any excuses. If a white boy can do it, you can too.'"
In addition to his photography, Parks also played the piano, composed a ballet in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and directed the first two "Shaft" films. He wrote a number of books on photography and one autobiography, "The Learning Tree," as well as directed the film version of it.
Parr says that Parks was "extremely successful" in all his endeavors. "There he was with all these accomplishments and no high school diploma."
Even though their friendship only lasted a few years, Parr came to admire much about Parks, and was particularly struck by his view on luck.
"There is no such thing as luck," she remembers Parks saying. "What you do is prepare yourself... and then when that opportunity walks by, you're going to recognize it and you grab it and run."