Gordon Roger Parks: Master of the Camera and First African-American TV Producer

Written by Jae Jones

Gordon Roger Parks was a master of the camera during his time. He was a noted photographer, writer, film director, and producer. He was also a scholar of the Rosenwald Fellowship, the first during that time which was awarded for photography. As the first famous pioneer among black filmmakers, Parks has been noted as being the first African-American to produce and direct major motion pictures—developing films relating the experience of slaves and struggling black Americans, and creating the “Blaxploitation” genre.

Parks was born on a small farm in Ft. Scott, Kansas in 192. He migrated to St. Paul, Minnesota in his early teens. After leaving his school, he worked a series of jobs which including; lumberjack, piano player, band leader, waiter, and professional basketball player.

In 1937, Parks chose photography as a career. He relocated to Chicago where he was inspired and influenced by his association with the artists of the South Side Community Art Center. At the community center, he was supplied with all the tools he needed for his work. He was given a one-man show and won a Rosenwald Fellowship. He then went to the Farm Security Administration unit which was directed by Roy Stryker. In 1945, Parks rejoined Stryker after spending three years working for Elmer Davis in the OWI’s Overseas Division. In worked with Stryker’s photography team on documentaries for Standard Oil of New Jersey.  He was later hired by Life magazine as a staff photographer in 1949.


While working for Life magazine, he had several important assignments. He covered stories on segregation in the staff, Harlem’s gang leader, crime in the United States and many others. He was acclaimed to have been one of the most versatile photographers. Parks worked across the country.  In 1961, he was named “Magazine Photographer of the Year,” and he received the Newhouse Award in photography from Syracuse University, as well as the NAACP Image Award in 2003. He was also the writer of the novel “The Learning Tree.” Parks died in 2006 at the age of 93.


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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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