NEW YORK (AP) – Gordon Parks, who captured the struggles and triumphs of black America as a photographer for Life magazine and then became Hollywood’s first major black director with “The Learning Tree” and the hit “Shaft,” died Tuesday, his family said. He was 93.
Parks, who also wrote fiction and was an accomplished composer, died at his home in New York, according to a former wife, Genevieve Young, and nephew Charles Parks.
“Nothing came easy,” Parks wrote in his autobiography. “I was just born with a need to explore every tool shop of my mind, and with long searching and hard work. I became devoted to my restlessness.”
He covered everything from fashion to politics to sports during his 20 years at Life, from 1948 to 1968.
But as a photographer, he was perhaps best known for his gritty photo essays on the grinding effects of poverty in the United States and abroad and on the spirit of the civil rights movement.
“Those special problems spawned by poverty and crime touched me more, and I dug into them with more enthusiasm,” he said. “Working at them again revealed the superiority of the camera to explore the dilemmas they posed.”
In 1961, his photographs in Life of a poor, ailing Brazilian boy named Flavio da Silva brought donations that saved the boy and purchased a new home for him and his family.
“The Learning Tree” was Parks’ first film, in 1969. It was based on his 1963 autobiographical novel of the same name, in which the young hero grapples with fear and racism as well as first love and schoolboy triumphs. Parks wrote the score as well as directed.
In 1989, “The Learning Tree” was among the first 25 American movies to be placed on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. The registry is intended to highlight films of particular cultural, historical or aesthetic importance.
Parks was born Nov. 30, 1912, in Fort Scott, Kan., the youngest of 15 children. In his 1990 autobiography, “Voices in the Mirror,” he remembered it as a world of racism and poverty, but also a world where his parents gave their children love, discipline and religious faith.