Washington, D.C. Government charwoman
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"Washington, D.C. Government charwoman", also known as "American Gothic", is widely considered to be Parks's most iconic image. On his first day working for the Farm Security Administration, Parks was instructed by FSA leader Roy Stryker to go out and about in Washington, D.C. to learn the city. Parks encountered so much bigotry and discrimination that Stryker told him to find and talk with some older black people who had lived their entire lives in Washington to see how they had coped. Parks took him up on this advice and met Ella Watson, a black woman who did janitorial work in the FSA building. Though Parks later chronicled many facets of Ms. Watson's life, this first, simple portrait went on to become the symbol of the pre-civil rights' era treatment of minorities.
Gordon Parks | See All Editions
Gordon Parks was a photographer, musician, writer, and film director. His best-known work was in documentary photojournalism, consisting of images he made in the U.S. from the 1940s to the 1970s, focusing on issues of civil rights, poverty, and the lives of African-Americans. His work as a photographer and filmmaker was barrier-breaking: he was the first African-American photographer at LIFE and Vogue, and one of the first African-Americans to produce and direct major motion pictures such as Shaft.
Parks was born in 1912 into a poor and segregated life in Kansas. Drawn to photography after seeing images of migrant workers in a magazine, he picked up a camera from a pawnshop and taught himself to use it. Despite a lack of formal training, he was hired by the Farm Security Administration. It was there Parks developed his style, creating powerful images that explored the socioeconomic impact of racism.
After the FSA closed, Parks worked as a freelance photographer, shooting for both fashion magazines and photographing humanitarian issues. He was hired at LIFE Magazine, where he would remain for twenty years and for whom he would create a wide range of iconic images. Many of these photographs became symbols of activism, rallying support for the growing Civil Rights Movement, which Parks believed in deeply and documented often.
Over the course of his career, Parks won numerous awards, gained over fifty honorary doctorates, directed several films, and wrote a best-selling novel. He continued photographing until his death in 2006.
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