This week’s inspiration: fashion, lifestyle and (most importantly) movement photographer, Gordon Parks.
It wasn’t until I started poring over Volume 26 of the Kinfolk magazine that I found about him, in spite of his magnanimous work behind the lens. Moved by the same current of wanting to document and expose what his own eyes saw, he taught himself how to use a camera he bought from a pawn shop.
Years, decades later, Parks would be known for his body of work that documented the grit and beauty of black life that reflected his commitment to racial justice. He captured fleeting moments on camera, each a universe on its own. He documented poverty, rural and urban life, revealing the herculean efforts it took to complete seemingly menial tasks.
At the same time, he also did many portraits and fashion shoots, a testament to his versatility in the craft. Throughout his career, he photographed Muhammad Ali, the Black Panthers, Ralph Ellison, Marilyn Monroe and many more.
I gravitated towards Parks because I found his work as a movement photographer and a fashion photographer compelling. In a time when most of us are encouraged to do one big thing, what he chose to do gave me so much hope. What I loved about him is that he believed in capturing beauty, that beauty is essential to everyday life.
I love that he was engaged in making that happen, and that it didn’t stop him from continuing his work no matter what he was engaged in — whether out in the streets or in a fashion studio.
I can’t say that I am a former activist at the moment, just because my level of participation isn’t what it used to be. I’m at a point where my activism is constantly evolving, and it is looking more and more different each day. At the same time, I’ve never felt so invigorated in expressing myself through fashion, something I’ve considered superficial for a long time.
What I’m slowly realizing is that I’m engaged in a double-sided effort: a spiritual transformation through reading, and constant visual transformation of my body as a means for growth. Thus, my renewed vigor for books and looks or concurrently: #booklook.
These two efforts — literature and fashion, have long been intertwined in my system from a young age. My love for reading books started early on, never forced, a natural inclination.
Fashion, on the other hand was a different story, something that grew out of being a morena in a country where colorism runs deep, a story between my mother and I.
Being the bookish kid with a flair for fashion was hard, because I felt like I was constantly being pulled in opposite directions. Whereas I cherished the world books built for me within, I was also giddy with experimenting with different looks to express my creativity. Eventually, I dismissed the latter and decided to focus on literature.
These days though, I find myself exploring these things again. Both pursuits require money, so I’m eternally grateful for used bookstores (like Green Apple Books in San Francisco) and consignment stores all over the city (Buffalo Exchange, Crossroads). Material considerations aside, I’m grateful to Parks for showing me that it is possible, that we don’t have to compartmentalize the ways we choose to express ourselves.
In the meantime, you can find a combination of these loves on my Instagram account. I’d love to know what you think: have you ever felt like you embrace contradicting things? How’d you struggle with them?
Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.