EXHIBITS AS LEARNING TREES

Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks, who died in March 2006, would have turned 100 this Nov. 30. The youngest of 15 children in a very poor Kansas family, he struck out on his own in his early teens and found ways to express his talents as a self-taught musician, composer, photographer, painter, film director and writer, including a number of autobiographies and memoirs.

His centennial is being celebrated in exhibitions around NYC. You can watch a photo-mural and slide show of 50 photographs in the 43rd Street windows of the International Center of Photography at any hour of the day or night.

Then hop on either the M7 bus or the 2 or 3 subway uptown to 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, where the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has mounted a splendid show focusing on Parks’ early documentary and portrait photographs, curated by Deborah Willis. I had admired Parks’ photos but knew little about his life, creative breadth and the significance of his work in Hollywood (Shaft wasn’t my kind of movie). Parks was one of the first black directors and was instrumental in developing training programs for African-Americans and other “minorities,” opening up job opportunities in the movie industry.

His quiet eloquence in the DVD interview and some quotes from his writings on the wall labels inspired me by his kind spirit, inner strength and openness to experience. Parks truly succeeded in “challenging stereotypes while communicating to a large audience,” as described in his New York Times obituary.

The Department of Photography & Imaging at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts will exhibit Gordon Parks: Crossroads with 45 images by Parks. Howard Greenberg Gallery will present two related shows of Parks’ photographs: Gordon Parks: Centennial, a 40-work survey, and Contact: Gordon Parks, Ralph Ellison and “Invisible Man,” curated by Glenn Ligon.

And in October, Steidl will publish a five-volume set of Parks’ collected works. www.steidlville.com.