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As a photographer, film director, composer, and writer, Parks (1912-2006) was a “visionary artist whose work continues to influence American culture to this day,” states the press release for the exhibition. A photographer for Life Magazine during the publication’s prime years, Parks documented everyday life across the country and his images “have been woven into the fabric of our nation’s collective visual memories.”

Parks was a self-taught artist and first worked with the Farm Security Administration. During the 1940s he worked as a freelance photographer for publications like Ebonyand Vogue. In 1948 he became the first African American staff photographer and writer at Life magazine, spending 20 years there.

In 1967, after more than two decades of chronicling America, Parks wrote these words:
What I want. What I am. What you force me to be is what you are. For I am you staring back from a mirror of poverty and despair, of revolt and freedom. Look at me and know that to destroy me is to destroy yourself.