MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Legendary photographer, filmmaker and musician Gordon Parks has died. A man of tremendous energy and talent, Parks captured America, but more specifically, black America, as a photographer for Life Magazine for 20 years. But his talents were way beyond that. Parks was a renaissance man. He directed movies, such as SHAFT and THE LEARNING TREE. He was also a poet, an author and musician. The HBO documentary HALF-PAST AUTUMN profiled Parks's life and work.
This is Gordon Parks in an interview with MORNING EDITION in 2000.
GORDON PARKS: I think curiosity is what has helped me and I just think that 90 percent of us don't pursue the things that we could possibly do well in. Some people say, oh, I wanna write a novel. I say, well, why don't you sit down and write it? You know. That's the way my first novel popped up. I wrote a bestseller, you know.
NORRIS: We're joined now by photographer Jason Miccilo Johnson. He's one of the many African American photographers whom Parks mentored. Parks wrote the forward to Johnson's new book, SOUL SANCTUARY. That's a collection of images of the African American church. Johnson joins us from his home in Washington, D.C. Jason, so glad you could talk with us.
JASON MICCILO JOHNSON: Thank you. Thank you for the calling, Michele.
NORRIS: I understand you just spoke with Gordon Parks's daughter. What did she have to say?
MICCILO JOHNSON: Well, we just talked briefly. She asked me, said, you're calling because you've heard. I said, yes. And she said that the funeral would be in New York and I told her I would call back about mid-week to find out the details. And, you know, just basically said that I know we've lost a great friend and a mentor, but when I think back at Gordon Parks, I think back at the great memories and the lives that he's touched, the many photographers whose work he reviewed and gave suggestions and encouragement to.
And I'll always remember, of course, the great day in Harlem where we celebrated his 90th birthday tribute with a group photo of 90 of America's top photographers.
NORRIS: Where do you see his influence now in a generation of photographers working today?
MICCILO JOHNSON: I think it would be in the sincerity of his work and the sense that Gordon always sought truth and in one of his books, THE CHOICE OF WEAPONS, he talks about being able to more or less spread light and not fire. To be able to illuminate situations through the camera to cause people to look at situations differently and to examine life itself in terms of this fairness and accuracy.
NORRIS: One of his best-known photographs shows a black woman with gray hair and glasses. She looks so tired and she's standing in front of an American flag holding a mop in one hand and a broom in the other. And it's an obvious nod to the famous American Gothic painting. It seems like that's one of the most striking examples of how he combined art and social commentary.
MICCILO JOHNSON: Absolutely. That picture taken for the Farm Security Administration back in the '40s was one of the examples of Gordon using his artistic eye, combining it with great technical skill and a certain distinctive analogy that he put into his work that made people look at it and think twice about the situation. In other words, he uses photography to have a silent impact, but then it awakened many people without causing a lot of chaos and habit. He believe in quiet change, but in a demonstrative way through imagery, words, poetry and just having a legacy of creating work that had meaning, not only for this generation, but for generations to come. So he would be greatly missed as not only an iconic photographer and a renaissance man, but also most people probably won't remember that he was one of the founding forces behind Essence Magazine.
NORRIS: As one of the original founders. Well, Jason, thanks so much for talking with us.
MICCILO JOHNSON: Thank you.
NORRIS: Jason Miccilo Johnson, photographer, author of the new book SOUL SANCTUARY and friend and colleague of Gordon Parks, who died today.
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