The inspiration of Gordon Parks | St. Louis Public Radio

The inspiration of Gordon Parks

May 26, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: As I was walking through the “Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks” exhibit at the St. Louis Museum, I was reminded of when I first became familiar with Gordon Parks.

I was a student at Iowa State University on one of my rare "study sessions" at the library. As I remember it, things weren’t going too well and my mind kept wandering off from my studies. So, I got up and looked for photography books.

While browsing, I came upon the work of James Van der Zee, a photographer in Harlem, and P. H. Polk, a photographer at Tuskegee University. I also saw Gordon Parks’ photographic version of the American Gothic while looking through the Farm Security Administration book.

It was interesting to see that African-American photographers had photographed so many different types of subjects and that one of the photographers had work published in Life magazine, which was known for its picture essays, mostly in black and white.

Gordon Parks, American, 1912–2006; American Gothic, 1942, printed 2003; gelatin silver print; 24 x 20 inches;
Credit Lent by The Capital Group Foundation, 2002.05 © 2006 The Gordon Parks Foundation

When I finally decided I wanted to be a photojournalist, I began looking at Parks’ photographs even more, especially what he had done for Life. He photographed such subjects such as Red Jackson, a gang member in Harlem, Malcolm X and the Black Muslims, and the de Silva family of Brazil.

Parks’ success in photography and later in film has been an inspiration to many photographers. The exhibit, “Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks” at the St. Louis Art Museum is just a small retrospective of the important work he has done. The majority of the photographs are black and white, and Parks’ work captures many of the events that shaped our society's recent history.


Photos courtesy of the St. Louis Art Museum. The exhibit will run through August 3.

About the author

London Lady (cropped)
Credit Provided by Odell Mitchell Jr. | St. Louis Beacon archives

Odell Mitchell Jr. has been an award-winning professional photographer since 1980. With the St. Louis Post-Dispatch until 2007, he has traveled throughout the country and world shooting sporting events, breaking news and more. He's now a free-lance photojournalist. based in O'Fallon, IL. His London lady (left) illustrates the type of photo inspired by Gordon Parks.