Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189

June 30, 1995

Photographer Gordon Parks Donates Archives to the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress announced today its acquisition of the archives of the work of Gordon Parks, photographer, filmmaker, composer, and author. The acquisition will include Mr. Parks's papers, music, photographs, films, recordings, drawings, and other products of his long and creative career. Transfer of the collection to the Library from Mr. Parks's home in New York is to be completed within the next several months.

In making the announcement, James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, said, "Mr. Parks's generous gift will substantially enrich the unparalleled record of American creative genius preserved by the Library. Gordon Parks's sustained high level of achievement in a wide variety of media makes his archives unique and a major resource for researchers in many fields."

Bernard Reilly, Head of the Curatorial Section of the Prints and Photographs Division, said, "This is like a homecoming. For many years we have held and cared for Mr. Parks's Farm Security Administration photographs and negatives from the 1940s. We are extremely gratified to be entrusted now with the major body of his later work."

In donating his work to the Library of Congress, Mr. Parks is continuing a longstanding affiliation with the Library. Since the 1940s, the Library has been the repository of the Depression-era and World War II photographs that Mr. Parks produced for the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. The Library's Music Division also holds Mr. Parks's published and unpublished scores, and its Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division has several of his films and television productions. His first full-length feature film, "The Learning Tree," released in 1969, was selected by the Librarian of Congress as one of the initial 25 titles for the National Film Registry in 1989.

Mr. Parks continues to be prolific in his multifaceted careers in the visual, performing and literary fields. With more than 15 books in print, at the age of 82, Gordon Parks most recently completed a monograph on English painter J.M.W. Turner and is currently working on a new autobiography. The Library has also recently received from Mr. Parks a selection of about 200 master photographs surveying his entire career.

Born in 1912 in Fort Scott, Kansas, Gordon Parks left home at an early age following the death of his mother. He supported himself with odd jobs, working as a bus boy, piano player, and dining car waiter. It was while working as a waiter on the train line that he became familiar with the works of photographers through their portfolios published in magazines and decided to become a photographer.

The purchase of his first camera, Parks would later recall, was his weapon against poverty and racism. Amazingly, Parks's first pictures attracted the attention of the Kodak processing branch manager, who provided Parks with his first showing of photographs in the window gallery of the store.

In 1940, Parks moved to Chicago at the urging of a friend and concentrated on documenting the south side of Chicago. It was here that Parks gained an opportunity to experience and explore documentary-style photography. This work eventually led to his being the first photographer to be awarded the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship. His career in photography was then well under way, and with the Rosenwald Fellowship, Parks chose to go to Washington, D.C., to work with the Farm Security Administration photographers.

The early work of Gordon Parks, one of the most influential photographers of the mid-20th century, was mostly documentary. The poignant photographs he produced for the Farm Security Administration 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. From 1948 to 1969, he was on assignment for Life, creating captivating photographic essays such as the Harlem gang members series and a pictorial on Flavio, the Brazilian child from the slums whose story so moved the nation that Parks raised enough money to bring him to the United States. Also while at Life, Parks showed his versatility by photographing high fashion in Paris. Later he worked for both Glamour and Vogue.

Some of Parks's most recent work can be seen in Arias in Silence (Boston: Little Brown, 1994), where he has combined photographic still-life images with his watercolor paintings accompanied by his poems. "The pictures that have most persistently confronted my camera have been those of crime, racism and poverty," said Parks. " Arias in Silence is a rummaging through my imagination -- finding things blooming, things living and dying with a certain elegance."

Ever prolific, Parks is currently working on the second volume of his color abstracts for publication.

Two of Mr. Parks's most successful commercial films have been "Shaft" (1971) and "Shaft's Big Score" (1972). For the latter, he composed the musical score that included the popular song, "Don't Misunderstand," which was covered by a number of jazz and popular artists. Among his other successful music scores are "Piano Concerto" (1953), "Three Piano Sonatas" (1960), "Tree Symphony" (1967) and "Martin" (1989), which was produced as a ballet in 1990 by PBS. He wrote the libretto and music for this piece to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington is organizing the first major retrospective exhibition that will highlight all aspects of Mr. Parks's extensive career. The exhibition is planned to open in September 1997 and will travel throughout the world for several years. Philip Brookman, curator of photography and media arts at the Corcoran, is organizing and developing this exhibition. Mr. Brookman has stated his desire to make this project as comprehensive as possible and to that end is organizing a series of films, concerts, poetry readings, and other related events.

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PR 95-096
ISSN 0731-3527

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