Birge's Picks

Gordon Parks is a Minnesota master of time

Gordon Parks takes a self-portrait.Marianne Combs

November 15, 2021

Photography stops time. A great photographer knows how to capture 1/500th of a second and find meaning in that tiny sliver of time. Music is nothing but sound in time. A great musician creates meaning by stringing together an infinite number of instants.

Gordon Parks was both a photographer and a musician — a master of time. His turbulent adolescent years in St. Paul in the 1920s, including his first photographic show, were an important prelude to his magnificent legacy.

This week, HBO celebrates that legacy with the documentary chronicling Parks in A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks: "Using Parks’ career as a historical map through the Black American experience, Emmy award winning director John Maggio's comprehensive documentary reveals Parks to be a true American treasure. An inspiration to generations, his captivating story is told here [with] Ava Duvernay, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Nelson George, Anderson Cooper and a host of contemporary photographers who stand on his shoulders."

For more information and to view the trailer go here.

There’s more to Gordon Parks than his images. Minnesota is where Parks got his first job playing piano and where his first musical compositions were performed. In St. Paul in 2005, one year before Parks’ death, the VocalEssence choir told his remarkable life story as part of their Witness series, along with Lou Bellamy of Penumbra Theatre. MPR’s Dan Olson covered the story in this report.