Fashion, 1948-61 - Photography Archive - The Gordon Parks Foundation

Unknown Photographer, Gordon Parks photographing fashion, Paris, France, 1951

Over the course of his career, Parks’s greatest achievements were in documentary photography, but he also cultivated a reputation for his fashion photography. In fact, his willingness to work on fashion shoots repeatedly opened doors to other possibilities. 

Notable among his many fashion assignments were the pieces he did for Life between 1948 and 1951. The “Paris Fashions” issue of Life, from April 25, 1949, for instance, demonstrates his multifaceted skills in pictures that elegantly combine the movement of the streets, the plasticity of the clothing, and the statuesque poise of the models. The January 23, 1950 issue featured a photograph by Parks on the cover, celebrating the trend of “man-tailored shirts” that was popular at that time (“Women go dudish with piqué trim,” read the brief article’s headline). In the August 21, 1950 issue, Parks documented the Spanish influence on American women’s fashion, in images that highlighted the bright, severe outlines of matador-and-torero-inspired fitting, and cleverly paid homage to the framing and backgrounds of revered Spanish painters such as Goya and Velázquez by including cats and lapdogs.

The last fashion essay that Parks did for Life in Europe was on the 1951 spring show in Paris, published in the March 5 issue of that year. Along with photographer N. R. Farbman, Parks documented the latest styles (including frisky motifs like cuffs, waistcoats, and smock tops). He also followed Bettina Ballard, Vogue’s fashion editor, during her exceptionally busy day. Like these spring fashion collections, Parks himself was soon destined for America; a letter from Wilson Hicks directed him to return from Paris for further assignments at home. He and his family sailed back to the United States on the Queen Mary two days after Christmas 1952.