black issues book review
July/August 2006


That Tornado from the West

Gordon Parks was the embodiment of elegance, culture and a zest for life.

By Chester Higgins Jr.

Riding the wind from the mid-west to the East Coast, a young Gordon already knew how hopeless life could be: orphaned, homeless in the middle of the depression. Like the trains he rode, working as a waiter, he was driven, focused and fearless. A chance encounter with a passenger awakened in him a for the camera. Embracing the camera, he began bouncing between the different worlds of race, publishing, poverty and money.

And he had style. So much style that he would always cut a dashing figure. We men loved him, and women loved him dearly. He became the envy of many. Style, for him, was important but not everything. Style was presentation, only the beginning. His style made you predisposed to appreciate his substance. He poured elements of this substance into his photographs, his photo-essays, his writings, his music, his poetry and his films — always into his art.

To me, Gordon’s style of dress is what I would call casually elegant. His interior makeup matched his casual exterior elegance and he expressed it so well in his art. Everyone could see it in his writings, his photography and his films.

His life became his art and his art became his life. Art became the vehicle that allowed him to dig deeper into himself, like a miner digging deep down into the earth. Late at night he would descend into those hidden depths of his soul and retrieved a few bits here and there. These bits would sit on his mind and percolate into a brew that would become an artistic expressions and rise with the morning sun.


The Finer Things

Gordon was a study in self-worth. His head always held high, completely at ease with himself. He enjoyed life in a classy way: his taste in people, theatrical productions, parties and sports (the tennis and skiing). He told me, "It is important to become well-rounded in all of the finer things in life and art. Go to good theater, read good books. Take it all in".
To me, Gordon was the lighthouse, leading by example and showing the way so that we could navigate the waters of image making. His advice became the keel that steadied my vessel on its artistic voyage.

Time alone with Gordon’s work became meditative; and time visiting him was so special, like coming alive in a birthing chamber. Over the years, visiting him, I recall how he, over the years, always grabbed poems off his writing table and handled them to me and said, "This is the best writing I’ve ever done." He was right, because his artistic mind was always evolving.
At Home With Gordon

Visiting Gordon at home meant walking into a combination museum and a working library. All of the walls were covered with large photographs. The bookshelves were full of his many novels, translated into various languages; his dining table was crowded with stacks of papers here and there; his coffee table filled with his picture books and the piano, near a window, with music sheets with his freshly written notes. Every end table held piles of medals and awards. The entire space, with light flooding in through wrap-around floor to ceiling windows had a commanding view of the East River.

Thank you, Gordon, for your inspiration. Thank you for being you. I thank God for blessing me to live in your time, whipped up by and touched by your wind. — Chester Higgins Jr.

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