If there was ever a man that was the epitome of being immortal to his craft – it was Gordon Parks. There are many essays and biographies that can be found on his childhood, the books he wrote, his paintings, and film scores. But this blog is strictly about his photography.
Half Past Autumn 1997
Being a photographer myself; there is 1 main core thing that I understand about portraiture and photo essays.
-Your subject has to be as comfortable with you as their own skin.
Getting people to “let you in” is challenging. Some assignments you have minutes to do it and others: weeks. It doesn’t matter if it’s a celebrity, criminal, or a common man: “trust” has to be earned. Wit and cleverness works mildly compared to honesty, compassion, and sincerity. You have only a short period of time to show you are “genuine.” It’s a gift that Parks showed he had over and over again throughout his prodigious career. One needs look no further than his photographic essay, “A Harlem Family.” A collection of photographs telling the story of the Fontemtelle family; an improvised family of 10 struggling with unemployment, and the rest of the hardships that come with having to deal with those types of economics. Obviously I wasn’t there when Parks approached the Fontenelle family. But the images of a family drenched in poverty and hope were only possible because Parks showed them his heart before his camera. There are so many layers that had to be implemented simultaneously. Gordon had to gain their trust (and not mishandle it). He had to always be ready, camera in hand for the untimed various moments which could tell the story best. He also had to “work” in a way that he would not be a distraction to the household.
What makes a photographer such as Gordon Parks immortal? Because people still flock to museums, galleries, books, blogs to view his work. But more importantly, because people still care.
Look at the images here