Gordon Parks Read a Tribute to Gordon Parks
It was no small honor when The Exposure Group - a collective of dynamic African American photographers based in Washington, DC - presented me with their 2002 Gordon Parks Legend Award. For me Gordon Parks symbolizes excellence and achievement.

I first met Gordon in 1971 after he had finished his second movie, "The Learning Tree, " and was in preproduction for his next film, "Shaft. " He is an imposing figure, personally as well as professionally. Greeting me at the door to his Manhattan apartment, Gordon took me into his large living room with its commanding view of the East River. Surrounding us were couches arranged to augment the panoramic view, a grand piano, his photographs and paintings as well as his countless awards, piled several deep on tabletops. Some of his photographs, enlarged to 30-by-40 inches, made me feel I was in a personal museum.

I brought my first photography book Black Woman to show Gordon. Offering words of encouragement, he began to talk about the business of art. An accomplished photographer who became a staffer for Life magazine, Gordon is an equally talented musician, filmmaker, writer, poet and painter. When I brought up my passion to change the media's perception of African Americans, he gave me a piece of advice, arresting in its simplicity: "If your ethics demand that you not perpetuate negative images,"he told me bluntly, "then don't make them. " He went on to explain that if a photographer makes 35 dignified images and only one negative image, most editors will choose that one negative frame in a roll of 36 exposures. Only the rarest editors have the ability to overcome this societal bias.

Years later, again sitting with Gordon in his comfortable living room, our talk was on the many things that make a good photograph. My mind was racing to composition, lighting, design, all the technical aspects, but Gordon was thinking metaphysically. "Great photographs are made with the heart, not necessarily with the eye, " he told me.

Embracing this approach, I try to seek out images that make my heart smile.
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