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How Gordon Parker Used Photography as a Tool For Activism.

Photo credit: The Gordon Parks Foundation

Like most African Americans in his generation, Gordon Parker suffered from the consequences of segregation and limitation due to his race, especially in his formative years and even as he grew. He was a photographer, poet, composer, and film director who rose to fame in the 1940s through to the 1970s. He was well known for his work as a photojournalist, the first in-house Black photographer for Life Magazine. He was also one of the earliest Black film directors in Hollywood.  


Alongside his other skills which were mostly self-taught, he taught himself photography and went on to use his skills as a photographer to depict just how racial segregation, racism, and racial-based violence hurt African Americans and impeded their growth.

Gordon Parks held his camera as a symbol of his voice, his own form of “weapon”. His autobiography is entitled “A Choice of Weapons,” representing how given his environment, he could have turned to actual weapons of violence like guns as his weapons, but in the end, he chose his camera. His camera became his weapon against the warfare of racism and racial-based violence; a weapon of protest.

With his photography, Parker showcases the simple life of Black people, like taking pictures of a Black mother amongst other people, holding her child. The pictures showcasing the life of Black people doing nothing other than existing is a form of humanization which is a vital form of ending discrimination against other people. The first step to discriminating against a group is always dehumanizing them. By humanizing Black people in his photos, Parker normalizes Black living and with his works, showed that Black People can be loving parents, young children, and teenagers hanging out in their neighborhood.


With his photos showing poor Americans in poor communities, Gordon Parker showed just how closely related racism is to poverty. The works served as a form of assistance for a US federal government project in the 1940s.  His photography also showed the lives of people living in Harlem, a Black populated side of New York City that was known for high crime rates, poverty, and high unemployment rate.

Asides from his photo activism, Parker took fashion photos and his work served as a blueprint for many other African American photographers. Not only did he pave a way for many others in photography, but he also did the same, even in Hollywood.



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