Howard University Obtains Major Acquisition of Gordon Parks’ Photo Archive

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The acclaimed photographer, writer and director Gordon Parks. Image: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images.

Howard University has announced the acquisition of 252 photographs from The Gordon Parks Foundation.

An acclaimed photographer, writer and musician, Parks was the first Black filmmaker to produce and direct major motion pictures. He’s credited with creating the “Blaxploitation” genre with classic films such as Shaft in 1971. Also, he was the first Black person to be a staff photographer at Life magazine.

According to a press releases obtained by EBONY, the photographs represent “the arc of Gordon Parks’ career over five decades.” The collection, which marks Parks’s earliest photographs in the 1940s through the 1990s, makes it one of the most comprehensive resources for the study of Parks’ life and work. The Gordon Parks Legacy Collection, a combined gift, and purchase will be housed in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.

The collection traces renowned works such as Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun, New York, New York, 1959; Duke Ellington in Concert, New York, 1960; Louis Armstrong, Los Angeles, California, 1969; among other photographs of notable figures from the era.

“This landmark collection of photographs by one of the great chroniclers of Black American life provides artists, journalists and scholars at Howard University with a new resource to study and embrace the lasting impact of Gordon Parks,” said Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Executive Director of The Gordon Parks Foundation. “As a photographer working in segregated Washington, D.C., in 1942, Parks established his first connections with Howard, which then embodied many of the values that his work came to represent. For him, that was a learning experience, which makes Howard a fitting place to keep his art alive.” 

“Howard University is proud to be the recipient of such an important collection of work by African American artist and photojournalist Gordon Parks,” said Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, President of Howard University. “Mr. Parks was a trailblazer whose documentation of the lived experiences of African Americans, especially during the civil rights period, inspired empathy, encouraged cultural and political criticism, and sparked activism among those who viewed his work. Having a collection of his timeless photographs in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center will allow Howard University faculty, students and visiting scholars to draw on his work and build upon his legacy of truth-telling and representation through the arts.”

“I am extremely excited about this historic acquisition by Howard University and this rich addition to Moorland-Spingarn’s collection,” said Benjamin Talton, Ph.D., Director of The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. “The collection fortifies Howard’s place as the preeminent institution preserving the legacy of the global Black experience. In addition to acquiring the nation’s largest Gordon Parks collection, Howard University is gaining a partner in the Gordon Parks Foundation. I am grateful that our students and faculty will have direct access to Parks’s work and the resources of the Gordon Parks Foundation for research and teaching. As a photographer and filmmaker, Parks left us with a unique narrative of the rich diversity that is African American life in the United States and the beauty and pain of the American story more broadly, during the second half of the 20th century.”

Throughout his illustrious career, Parks was awarded the Spingarn Medal in 1972; the National Medal of Arts in 1988; the PGA Oscar Micheaux Award in 1993; and an NAACP Image Award in 2003.

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