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Multitalented Artist Gordon Parks Dies at 93

Photographer Gordon Parks attends the International Center of Photography's 21st Annual Infinity Awards in May 2005 in New York City.
Paul Hawthorne
/
Getty
Photographer Gordon Parks attends the International Center of Photography's 21st Annual Infinity Awards in May 2005 in New York City.

Filmmaker and photographer Gordon Parks has died. He was 93. Parks captured black America as a photographer for Life magazine, and then became Hollywood's first major black director with the hit Shaft. He also wrote fiction and was an accomplished composer.

Gordon Parks

(AP) -- Gordon Parks, who captured the struggles and triumphs of black America as a photographer for Life magazine and then became Hollywood's first major black director with The Learning Tree and the box-office hit Shaft died Tuesday, a family member said. He was 93.

Parks, who also wrote fiction and was an accomplished composer, died in New York, his nephew, Charles Parks, said in a telephone interview from Lawrence, Kan.

He covered everything from fashion to politics to sports during his 20 years at Life, from 1948 to 1968.

But as a photographer, he was perhaps best known for his gritty photo essays on the grinding effects of poverty in the United States and abroad and on the spirit of the civil rights movement.

In 1961, his photographs in Life of a poor, ailing Brazilian boy named Flavio da Silva brought donations that saved the boy.

The Learning Tree was Parks' first film, in 1969. It was based on his 1963 autobiographical novel of the same name.

Parks was born Nov. 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kan., the youngest of 15 children. In his 1990 autobiography, Voices in the Mirror, he remembered it as a world of racism and poverty, but also a world where his parents gave their children love, discipline and religious faith.

In his autobiography, he recalled that being Life's only black photographer put him in a peculiar position when he covered the civil-rights movement.

"Life magazine was eager to penetrate their ranks for stories, but the black movement thought of Life as just another white establishment out of tune with their cause," he wrote. He said his aim was to become "an objective reporter, but one with a subjective heart."

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.