Category: Gordon Parks

Eartha Kitt photographed by Gordon Parks for LIFE magazine, 1952.

Eartha Kitt photographed by Gordon Parks in New York, 1952.

Sandy Brown photographed by Gordon Parks for “Life Magazine” – 1952

Veruschka in Dress by Pauline Trigère for Vogue, photographed by Gordon Parks, 1965


Malcolm X photographed by Gordon Parks for

LIFE magazine promoting the Muhammad Speaks newspaper, 1962.

On the night of April 27, 1962, scores of policemen ransacked the Nation of Islam Mosque in Los Angeles and wounded seven unarmed Muslims, leaving Ronald Stokes dead and William Rogers who is seen in the wheelchair above paralyzed.

Eartha Kitt photographed by Gordon Parks in New York, 1952.

Marilyn Monroe photographed by Gordon Parks in White Plains, New York, 1956.  

Malcolm X as Visual Strategist

For more positive reporting, Malcolm X could depend only on the Nation of Islam’s weekly newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, and, to a lesser extent, the Negro press. The mainstream news media, stoked by his fierce, sometimes inflammatory rhetoric and its own anxieties around race, afforded little more than negative and sensationalistic coverage, much like the Life article featured in Flora’s photograph. If conventional news outlets typically portrayed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the “angel of light,” as the sociologist Algernon Austin wrote, Malcolm had become their villainous “angel of darkness.”

While Malcolm viewed the “white press” as more or less a lost cause — its coverage remained largely negative until the day he died — he nevertheless engaged it and, at times, outsmarted it. The public’s trust of and faith in visual media, and its dominant role in shaping public opinion, made it a powerful outlet for reaching his target audience: African-Americans disillusioned with the mainstream civil rights movement.

Many blacks at the time rejected the Nation of Islam’s religious orientation, fundamentalism, political extremism and cultural insularity. But many were also skeptical of the mainstream movement; a 1963 poll by Newsweek reported that more than a third of African-Americans were “resigned to the possibility that they may have to fight their way to freedom.” It was the purpose of Malcolm’s media campaign to motivate these people. And it was the photograph that served as one of his most effective motivators.

A keen steward of the Nation of Islam’s visual representation, Malcolm X often carried a camera, his way of “collecting evidence,” as Gordon Parks once observed. He relied on photographs to provide the visual proof of Black Muslim productivity and equanimity that sensationalistic headlines and verbal reporting often negated. When photojournalists visited the community, he tried to steer them toward the kinds of affirmative images — shots of contented family life, children at play and school, and thriving businesses and institutions — that might subtly ameliorate the negative texts that he knew would inevitably accompany them.

(via The New York Times)