Rare View: Gordon Parks b. 1912
Gordon Parks was nothing if not prolific, and he wasn’t shy about putting his work out there. As a photojournalist for Life magazine, he became one of the country’s most important chroniclers of social inequality and racial strife — and at the same time made portraits of everyone from Barbra Streisand to Alexander Calder.
He also shot fashion for Vogue, wrote more than a dozen volumes of fiction, poetry and autobiography, directed several feature films, including “Shaft,” and sometimes even composed the music for them. Given how willing he was to go public in so many ways, it is a bit surprising to learn that when it came to his photographic work, Parks was unusually protective: he never wanted to let a single image out of his studio that didn’t make his own personal A-list. But even a portion of a contact sheet (provided by his foundation), from his first Life photo session with Muhammad Ali in 1966, shows what an eye the self-taught Parks possessed. At the time, the reigning heavyweight champion was being scorned by many for his conversion to the Nation of Islam and his resistance to the draft. In nine shots, a sense of Ali’s physical elegance, prowess, defiance, warmth and, perhaps, isolation comes through.