I recently had the honor of attending a Black History Month celebration at Macy’s in San Francisco, CA. I had heard about other events held at Macy’s and I was excited to finally be attending one, especially this one! If you are not familiar with Mr. Gordon Parks, here’s a biography on him that I found on The Gordon Parks Foundation website.
Gordon Parks was one of the seminal figures of twentieth century photography. A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, he left behind a body of work that documents many of the most important aspects of American culture from the early 1940s up until his death in 2006, with a focus on race relations, poverty, Civil Rights, and urban life. In addition, Parks was also a celebrated composer, author, and filmmaker who interacted with many of the most prominent people of his era—from politicians and artists to celebrities and athletes.
Born into poverty and segregation in Kansas in 1912, Parks was drawn to photography as a young man when he saw images of migrant workers published in a magazine. After buying a camera at a pawnshop, he taught himself how to use it and despite his lack of professional training, he found employment with the Farm Security Administration (F.S.A.), which was then chronicling the nation’s social conditions. Parks quickly developed a style that would make him one of the most celebrated photographers of his age, allowing him to break the color line in professional photography while creating remarkably expressive images that consistently explored the social and economic impact of racism.
When the F.S.A. closed in 1943, Parks became a freelance photographer, balancing work for fashion magazines with his passion for documenting humanitarian issues. His 1948 photo essay on the life of a Harlem gang leader won him widespread acclaim and a position as the first African American staff photographer and writer for Life Magazine, then by far the most prominent photojournalist publication in the world. Parks would remain at Life Magazine for two decades, chronicling subjects related to racism and poverty, as well as taking memorable pictures of celebrities and politicians (including Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and Stokely Carmichael). His most famous images, such as Emerging Man, 1952, and American Gothic, 1942, capture the essence of activism and humanitarianism in mid-twentieth century America and have become iconic images, defining their era for later generations. They also rallied support for the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, for which Parks himself was a tireless advocate as well as a documentarian.
Parks spent much of the last three decades of his life expanding his style, conducting experiments with color photography. He continued working up until his death in 2006, winning numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts in 1988, and over fifty honorary doctorates. He was also a noted composer and author, and in 1969, became the first African American to write and direct a Hollywood feature film based on his bestselling novel The Learning Tree. This was followed in 1971 by the hugely successful motion picture Shaft. The core of his accomplishment, however, remains his photography the scope, quality, and enduring national significance of which is reflected throughout the Collection. According to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Center at Harvard University, “Gordon Parks is the most important black photographer in the history of photojournalism. Long after the events that he photographed have been forgotten, his images will remain with us, testaments to the genius of his art, transcending time, place and subject matter.”
The Gordon Parks Foundation has more than 6,000 pieces of Mr. Park’s works. They are kept at their facility in NY. A few of his pieces were on display at Macy’s, for everyone to see.
Macy’s really knows how to put together an event, I was very impressed with the whole set-up. They had a portion of the third floor roped off for the function. There was a Jazz band playing, and they were serving wine from Esterlina Vineyards, one of only 12 black-owned wineries in the U.S. It was a full house, with many people in attendance. It was good to see so many people interested in learning more about Gordon Parks and coming together to celebrate his legacy. (I was so thankful for my front row seat!)
The highlight of the evening, was when actor/director, author, Eriq La Salle and actress/author, comedian, Kim Coles, hit the stage for a panel discussion. I have followed Mr. La Salle’s career since his portrayal of Mr. Soul Glow himself, in the 1988 hit, Coming to America, with Eddie Murphy! Kim Coles has been on my radar since her In Living Color days! It was great to be able to see them in person and hear what they had to say about Gordon Parks and how he had influenced their careers. In fact, he continues to impact their career decisions, even today.
One of my favorite quotes of the evening, was from Eriq La Salle. He was speaking about Mr. Parks and he said, “Gordon Parks didn’t ask permission to do things, he went out and did it!” Gordon Parks was a trailblazer, he thought outside the box. When he did not like how blacks were being portrayed in the movies, he went out and made the movie Shaft. Who hasn’t heard of Shaft? (He’s a mean mother, shut yo mouth!)
Mr. La Salle went on to share that he has written a book, Laws of Depravity, which sounds like a real thriller! Can’t wait to see it up on the big screen! Kim Coles will be starring in her own, one woman show, entitled: Oh, But Wait, There’s More! Be sure to support both of these talented professionals. They are following in Gordon Parks footsteps and thinking outside the box. As a freelance writer/photographer, I really admire them for what they are doing.
I was in good company while at this event, I met up with Mama Harris, who blogs at “From The Kitchen Of Mama Harris“, and Sharelle D. Lowery, your “Classy Black Girl“, (posing with Mr. La Salle.) After the discussion ended, we were treated to hors d’oeuvres and some folks even had their make-up retouched before heading out to the after-party. (I must confess, those macaroons were delicious! Oh my goodness!)I would like to commend Macy’s for hosting such an upscale event. Everything ran smoothly and the panel discussion was very informative. I left there knowing more about Gordon Parks than I did when I arrived, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Kudos Macy’s!
**Disclosure: I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere provided me with compensation for this post about Macy’s Black History Month. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.**