About a year ago, I received an email inquiry about a job, a children’s book about the pioneer 20th century photographer Gordon Parks. Regrettably I knew very little about the man, but a quick google search revealed his remarkable story. His still birth and miraculous resuscitation by the family physician Dr. Gordon, his humble beginnings in a segregated school room in Kansas, the tragic loss of his mom at age 15, and finally the racism he encountered all along the way. And then there were his beautiful photos, glamorous, vintage, and provocative, each so powerful, spanning his accomplished 75-year career. An inspired and poetic manuscript written by Caldecott Medal Honoree Carole Boston Weatherford arrived later that afternoon along with a contract– I had the night to think everything over. I knew this was an incredible opportunity, but it came with a few tough questions. Did I have the time to take this on? It was shaping up to be a very busy January and I had just signed on to illustrate four children’s books for another publisher. Could I complete it in time? It had a very tight schedule. ...and most importantly, did I have the chops for something like this, could I do Gordon’s story justice? Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night. Fellow freelancers, I’m sure you know the feeling.
At the time we were living Annapolis, Maryland and our days often began at the City Dock Starbucks, located at the town’s picturesque harbor. I’ll never forget that morning, I was walking along the shoreline tired and lost in thought and soon found myself at the Alex Haley Memorial, a group of bronze statues with the esteemed novelist of Roots seated on a bench and reading to children. I was familiar with the arrangement, but something special caught my eye that morning, a nearby plaque that concludes with these words, “Take time to share heritage stories with children so they can pass on their proud heritage and learn respect for the heritage of others.” At that moment, I knew I had to take time to help tell Gordon's story, I’m grateful for the opportunity.
You can purchase copies of the book from the publisher, Albert Whitman & Company here.
I wanted to share my favorite spread from the book along with a few sketches showing my process. Carole's words and Gordon's actual Washington D.C. photographs were my inspiration for this scene.