Gordon Parks was born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912. An itinerant laborer, he worked as a brothel pianist and railcar porter, among other jobs, before buying a camera at a pawnshop, training himself, and becoming a photographer. In addition to his storied tenures at the Farm Security Administration, the Office of War Information (1941–1945) and Life (1948–1972), Parks was a modern-day Renaissance man who found success as a film director, author and composer. The first African-American director to helm a major motion picture, he popularized the Blaxploitation genre through his film “Shaft” (1971). He wrote numerous memoirs, novels and books of poetry and received many awards, including the National Medal of Arts and more than fifty honorary degrees. In 1997 the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., mounted his retrospective exhibition “Half Past Autumn: The Art of Gordon Parks.” Parks died in 2006.