A Great Day for Gordon Parks

Legendary Photographer Celebrates 90th Birthday

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Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks at the tribute. Earl Anderson hide caption

itoggle caption Earl Anderson

Gordon Parks is the legendary African-American photographer known for documenting the lives of the poor — first for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression and later for Life magazine, where he became the first black staff photographer. He is a wide-ranging artist who has directed motion pictures, composed classical music and written books.

For All Things Considered, Jon Kalish reports that Parks recently celebrated his 90th birthday in New York City with a group of African-American photographers from around the country.

It was a busman's holiday of sorts. Scores of photographers, many meeting for the first time, took pictures of each other at a gathering on 126th Street in Harlem that was the largest of its kind, according to organizer Jason Miccolo Johnson. There were eight Pulitzer Prize winners, along with Ernest Withers, the 80-year-old civil rights photographer from Memphis, and all three African Americans who have served as official White House photographers. The group posed for a photograph that's a tribute to "A Great Day in Harlem," the famous 1958 Art Kane photo of an assemblage of jazz musicians.

The birthday celebration was "strangely beautiful," says Parks. "I received congratulations from everybody from somebody in jail to the President of the United States."

Parks is still at work in a big way. His photographic efforts continue, he recently finished a composition for cello, and he's published a novel about the 19th-century English painter J.M.W. Turner. A book of the images captured by the photographers in Harlem last weekend will be forthcoming, along with an exhibit in Boston this spring. Both will benefit aspiring black photographers.

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