On Tuesday night the Gordon Parks Foundation held their 10th Anniversary Awards Dinner And Auction to honor the legacy of a cultural icon who should never be forgotten: famed photographer, writer, composer and filmmaker Gordon Parks.
The Foundation honors those who have contributed their lives to the arts as Parks did.
This year’s honorees included: Founders of Public School and creative directors of DKNY Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow, artist and entertainer Janelle Monae, photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson. Also in attendance were Alexander Soros, Usher IV and Grace Raymond, Swizz Beatz, Victor Cruz and Chanel Iman.
Special Guest of the evening was, Kathleen Cleaver, Former Black Panther Leader shot by Gordon Parks in 1970. “This will be my first time seeing the picture he took of me in color,” Cleaver said.
The Gordon Parks Foundation has as its purpose permanently preserving the works of Gordon Parks and other artists, making it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and electronic media, and supporting artistic and educational activities that advance what Gordon described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.”
As we are standing in the aftershock of losing icons like Prince, David Bowie, and Natalie Cole, it still feels surreal knowing that we are also living in a world without Michael and Whitney. These artists crossed race and gender lines, but the commonality betwixt them is the impact they made on the culture. This prompted many of us to turn our gaze to our living icons, and wonder if they are doing things that will have a lasting impact on the culture.
Moreover, we got a little introspective and asked ourselves what we are doing to push the culture forward. While we currently live in an age where technology enables people to be famous for reasons that escape us, some of those who were overtly talented who gifted the world with their art are forgotten or overlooked. Gordon Parks should never be forgotten. Parks’ body of work is indicative of a sentiment expressed by Paul Carrick Brunson: “your ability to be of influence in your community is directly related to your ability to make connections outside of your community.”
Gordon Parks‘ ability to move between worlds photographing gang members in Harlem, Black Panthers, and urban life, while also shooting high end fashion photography for Vogue and building friendships with women like Gloria Vanderbilt, allowed his art to reflect the intersectionality of fashion, race, sports, entertainment, poverty, and segregation. This gave a truer reflection of what life actually was at those moments in history.
“He was one of the only people allowed around every political party on a global scale then also shoot a gang member in Harlem trying to make his way out. I feel I have that type of balance where I can do something in the hood, and then I can sit in a boardroom and travel and be in important rooms. I think we share that diversification with our artistry,” Swizz Beats told StyleBlazer on the influence of Gordon Parks on his work.
Heralded as the first African American photographer to work for both Life and Vogue magazines, Parks also directed a little gem known as Shaft, and The Learning Tree based on the novel he wrote, making him the first African American to direct a major Hollywood movie. While many argue the merit of the genre of film that Shaft opened up, Blaxploitation, the cultural impact of those films is undeniable.
Some felt these films gave black actors and writers an empowering platform to portray characters they deemed worthy, others felt they perpetuated black stereotypes that many blacks didn’t want acted out in front of white audiences. This rigid dichotomy of the black you are at home compared with the black you are in front of whites still plays out today. Polarizing, yes, but we cannot deny the cultural impact. In fact, it is safe to say that one cannot reach iconic status without being a polarizing figure.
“There isn’t anybody that can do what he does today. Good art and good culture never goes out of style,” Gayle King told StyleBlazer during cocktail hour of the event.
Click through for more images from the star-studded evening.