Unsung Icons of Style: Gordon Parks

Despite spending most of his time behind the camera capturing other people, Gordon Parks’ personal style is certainly worth remembering.  Parks was a true renaissance man of the mid twentieth century, working as a photographer, director, writer, and musician.  During this period Parks traveled throughout the country photographing everyone from the rural poor to celebrities, documenting the many different stories and faces of American life.  Later in his career Parks began directing films, most notably Shaft, the 1971 blaxploitation film that embodied urban cool.  Through his work, Parks captured how an individual’s appearance can tell so much about them.  Parks’ personal style conveyed a sense of relaxed complexity that reflected his own personality.  Parks often wore thick turtlenecks with houndstooth blazers and faded button downs with golden button double breasted blazers, embodying his comfortably formal style.  Parks’ trademark pipe, distinct patterns, and well worn pieces  expressed his distinct personality through his wardrobe.


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101 comments
  1. chuck said:

    Nice perspective man. Gordon Parks usually slips under the cracks for his contribution to American culture. A true giant

  2. Now here’re some styles that should come back in. At least elements of his outfits… And don’t you just hate it when people are good at EVERYTHING?! :)

  3. What a great face — so full of character. Definitely iconic in his look and impact on culture!

  4. What a serious babe, I love his style. So incredibly handsom. x

  5. Scott said:

    Sharp-dressed man alright–I should take a lesson from him!

  6. Matt said:

    The pic with the tash and pipe… that is now my new look. Thank you.

  7. dogear6 said:

    I had an opportunity to see Gordon Park’s a while ago and it was great. His rendition of American Gothic, from the cleaning lady in Washington D.C. was a superb commentary on the Civil Rights movement.

  8. Love this! Gordan Parks was definitely one of the most talented and sharpest brothers around. These are great pics of him. Nice post.

  9. sunmallia photography said:

    He was a class act indeed. Loved your blog and viewing these wonderful photos.

  10. Oh, I love this. Thank you so much for highlighting such a great icon of American Photographic History!

  11. Reblogged this on lifestyle30 and commented:
    This is such a great article. Such great photos about one of America’s Best Photographers of American History.

  12. Mr. Man said:

    Awesome! I really enjoyed your post!

  13. Alli said:

    So glad this was freshly pressed. Congrats! Makes me think of my own dad (a non-famous AA photographer) and all his great (heavy!) camera equipment in the old days. Fresh take on a man who gave us a lot. Thanks!

  14. I absolutely love Gordon Parks. I recently watched Half Past Autumn which was sort of an autobiographical documentary of his life. Loved it. Wanted more. I recently adopted him as my mentor from the grave…which is sort of interesting since I write horror and dark fiction.

    S.A. Huggins
    http://www.peelingcheek.wordpress.com

  15. Nice tribute; definitely one of Life Mag’s top shooters. He was a photographer and writer that could actually feel, and was drive by that. He was and still is an inspiration to me.

    Top 3 Parks stills: 3) “Muhammad Ali” – 1966; 2) “American Gothic” – 1942; and 1) “Flavio DaSilva” – 1961. If you’re not familiar with these images look them up and take time to study each one carefully. I think you’ll see why.

  16. Nice write up. He was, and continues to be one of my hero’s. American Gothic is a timeless and priceless image.

  17. Sarah D. said:

    What a classy guy! I’m glad to see him here, thanks.

  18. oh my, how you bring the best of my days spent in 12 bar blues and funky grooves in the circuit called chitterling, don’t cha just know it

  19. dsweetphotos said:

    He is my idol as a photographer….his contributions to art, life , and humanity were amazing ! Nice Post

  20. Really great post.
    I always love hearing about the style makers behind the scenes and the photos you chose are lovely!
    thank you :)

  21. Relaxed complexity– you nailed it! My mom told me about Richard Roundtree when I was a kid. We watched
    Shaft soon thereafter. A stylish and well played post. Cheers!

  22. Amazing photos! Parks has always been one of my favorite photographers.

  23. Daughter said:

    = beautiful & on point =

  24. A real legend. I remember the exhibit that was dedicated thim in Washington, D.C. back in 1996.

  25. Gordon is the BEST! HE is the great example

  26. Very nice. What inspired you to write about Gordon Parks? I just kicked up my “photography” game, and when I did I thought about him too.

  27. RHEST said:

    as a fashion student this is a refreshing read, love it

  28. Gordon Park is an icon. Love thewrite up and the pictures you chose to include. Great job!!

  29. I had the honor of meeting him at a book signing in Washington, DC in the 1990s. He was well into his 80s but still a class act. I don’t think people realize how groundbreaking Gordon Parks was — he was like filmmaker Spike Lee, poet Langston Hughes, and move composer John Williams all rolled up into one. Not bad for the son of a farmer born poor in segregated Kansas.

    Immanuel
    http://www.dlconfessionssequel.com

  30. koali said:

    This is a great spot – I am in love now – gotta go check my style. Should I ever reflect so much around me like this face does I am pleased with myself then.
    Everyone knows Shaft, here is the creator.
    At God’s pleasure.

    Nice

  31. A great post. Gordon Parks has always been on of my favorite photographers, but as your post shows there was more to him than his wonderful photography legacy.

  32. nadbugs said:

    I’m old enough to remember him from his LIFE magazine days — thanks for the memories! I love that you remind us all of this soulful presence.

  33. Just discovered your blog; Enjoyed your blog post. I especially enjoyed his book, Voices in the mirror: an autobiography;

  34. plusONE Photography said:

    Gordon Parks is one of my heros! Great piece.

  35. anniell said:

    Nice to see pics of his earlier days. I’d only seen a pic similar to the third one, on the cover of A Hungry Heart. Thanks for sharing those pics.

  36. Great photos! Excellent work. Thank you for sharing. Greetings from Italy.

  37. Abdur-Rahman Morgan said:

    Great thoughts and photos!

  38. Wow, as an amateur photographer, Gordon Parks is definitely one of my idols, but I never paid attention to his personal style and how powerful he comes out in photographs. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen most of the pictures you posted. Great piece, thank you for sharing.

  39. Back in the day, they believed a person’s personal style portrayed to others the type of work they should expect. Mr. Parks style was exquisite. Thanks for sharing.

  40. Buie said:

    Parks was the man. His collection of images are truly a national treasure.

  41. Gordon Parks is fabulous! Late last year I saw a photo exhibit of his work in DC. It was so amazing and what an inspiring life!

  42. Todd Materazzi Photography said:

    Amazing images, portraits and passion for the arts. Keep this around for others to learn and be inspired from!
    Blessings
    Todd

  43. Val said:

    Gordon Parks is a man of style and talent!

  44. Nate said:

    A truly amazing person

  45. I am grateful and absolutely delighted that you took the time to record this information online. Gordon Parks was a true Polymath! Thank you

  46. Red Toenails said:

    Totally agree. I went to see an art exhibit of his works. Loved it. I forgot he directed Shaft. Wow. Thanks. Reblog!!

  47. What a classy gent. Thanks for sharing these, I had no idea!

  48. MODFA said:

    a great film makers and innovator, and wonderful gentleman indeed!

  49. Hedone said:

    Wonderful captures of a brilliantly creative and talented man. I enjoyed this very much. Thank you.

  50. cmbranson77 said:

    This is cool. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Parks during his Half Past Autumn show. This was a nice reminder of Brilliance.

  51. Amazing post, that top photo of him in a double breasted jacket is brilliant, defiantly an icon of the 20th century.

  52. knagui said:

    Thanks for this post.
    I’ve been a Parks fan for years and I really appreciate this.

  53. AnitaAnswers said:

    I am the godmother of Mr. Gordon Parks nephew. Thank you for highlighting the talents and contributions Gordon Parks made worldwide.

  54. jvlivs said:

    A renaissance man indeed. He did it all. I saw “Half Past Autumn” at the Detroit Institute of Arts in ’99, and it was the best four hours I’ve ever spent there. Every image, writing, music score, etc. had given an incredible backstory validating if not cementing his seven decade career.

    I every time I pick up a camera, I almost see myself in his shoes. He was the man indeed. I first heard of him in late 1989 when I started high school, and we read “The Learning Tree”. That was the first book that I ever read from cover to cover and we saw the movie on a few occasions in class. Memories indeed.

  55. I’ve been in love with Gordon Parks for a long time. Thanks for this post reminding everyone that he was the paragon of cool.

  56. sam said:

    Cool, fashion and amazing.

  57. @oudia said:

    What an amazing person. He kinda looks like Albert Einstein in the 4th picture.

  58. Parks is a true inspiration for all of us creative types in the entertainment industry. . . especially those of us with a personal sense of style. Great read. . . thanks. – AB

  59. thanks for sharing this amazing post!
    such a fresh thing to bring before the readers!

  60. Wonderful piece, a true pioneer in film and photography! I have not forgotten about him at all, if you try to see his ‘eye’ in most pictures, you will notice how remarkable he was…especially in the lighting technique! :)

  61. Amazing collection of vintage style here. Classic male clothing will always stay fresh. Parks is a great example of that.

  62. I LOVE Park’s story. These photos are epic. Thanks for posting!

  63. One of the greatest things to note is he shot the movie Shaft like a photographer. Watch the movie again with this in mind. Simply awesome work.

  64. I wish I had just 1% of the class that he exudes. Excellent post!

  65. Monica Kowal said:

    Thank you for this post. I had the honor of meeting Gordon Parks on more than one occasion. Back in 1996, I was a producer at the Eddie Adams photo workshop where Gordon was the guest of honor. I will never forget seeing him on the dance floor, gettin’ down with all the young female photographers. He was quite the ladies man, even at 85. I also interviewed him and wrote a profile of his life and work. He was gracious and nurturing and I will never forget him. He was a true class act.

  66. More proof that just as with women – the classics can show true style through the entire span of even a great life.

  67. Roy said:

    Nice post, I didn’t know about this guy. My favourite pic is of him crouching, wearing a trench and clutching a Rolleiflex.

    Googling Parks now.

    roymathur.com

  68. There is certainly a beautiful story being told in these images.

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