The Promethean talents of Gordon Parks

One of the best testaments to the life of Gordon Parks comes from Chuck Olsen's vlog Minnesota Stories. In footage shot for a Twin Cities Public Television documentary, Parks describes one of his most iconic subjects, Ella Watson, a government maintenance worker captured in black-and-white, world-weary with mop in hand, in front of an American flag. The footage illustrates Parks' notion that a camera can be a weapon to combat racism, intolerance and other injustice. But as Chuck quotes, Parks didn't just limit it to that technology:
You don't need the gun, the knife, to do it. You can do it with your pen or your computer, you can do it with a paint brush and so forth. You can be heard, and heard a lot longer and a lot stronger, if you use the right weapons. And those are the weapons that I have chosen.
Another moving tribute comes from the Walker Film/Video blog. In 1996, Parks was honored for his film work with a retrospective and dialogue at the Walker, and here's part of what Michael Eric Dyson wrote in a commissioned essay for that event, "Gordon Parks: Prometheus in Motion":
As Parks sifts through the cache of memories his Promethean talents have created, he refuses to be bitter about the denials, limits and indignities that have been, at one time or another, imposed upon his work. His trials have made him widely empathetic toward victims of any prejudice and skeptical about the privileges of race, class, or nation to establish the proper basis for human interaction. Through the power of his words, this intelligent and sensitive interpreter of human experience has now turned the mirror toward us, as well as himself; we, like Parks, must be judged by the integrity of our response to what we hear and see. Let us hope that we are half as successful as he has been.
Photos: Walker Art Center (top), Library of Congress (bottom)

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