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A Lifelong Pursuit of Photographic Excellence

October 18, 2000|BOOTH MOORE

Legendary photographer Gordon Parks thinks of life in terms of seasons, which is why, at 88, he's titled his first retrospective "Half Past Autumn." The exhibit opened Friday at the California African American Museum in Exposition Park with a party and discussion attended by director John Singleton, actor Forest Whitaker and nearly 300 others.

Parks, the youngest of 15 children born in Fort Scott, Kan., had no formal photography training. He bought his first camera for $7.50 at a pawnshop and proceeded to fall into Puget Sound while taking his first photos--of sea gulls. After a brief period at Vogue, he was hired at Life in 1948, where he remained until 1970, creating some of the most recognizable images of the 20th century.

"Doors didn't mean anything to me," he said. In high school, Parks was told by a white teacher that a college degree would be a waste of his time. "When I got my 45th [honorary] doctorate at Princeton," he said, "I wished she'd been there so I could have given it to her."

In the museum lobby, models re-created some of Parks' most famous photos. For "Boy With June Bug" (1963), Zachary Johnson, an 11-year-old from Los Angeles, spent the evening dressed in a pair of denim overalls, lying on a patch of grass with a plastic June bug resting on his forehead. "At least it's not a real dead bug," he said. "That would be sick."

Jackie Stoloff, an actress and former fashion model, was one of Parks' first subjects, posing for the photo "Paris Fashions" (1950). Stoloff said that in those days, a time of racial segregation and tension in this country, Parks' race was irrelevant to the work. "When working fashion, you don't pay much attention," she said. "You just do your job, wearing all those fabulous clothes."

At the party, an Eastman Kodak rep gave Parks his first digital camera. He said that he would give it a try but that he couldn't imagine digital cameras capturing the same emotion as regular cameras: "I believe photography has to come from the heart."

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Event planner Jeffrey Best, responsible for Stuff magazine's party in Chinatown and Maxim magazine's blowout at the Friendly Farmer's Daughter's Motel, threw the biggest party yet Saturday: his wedding to makeup artist Michel Ward.

The Palm Springs-casual ceremony was held at sunset beneath palm trees on the Cree Estate in Cathedral City. The bridesmaids, in short pink dresses, walked down the aisle to Sting's "Desert Rose," followed by the bride in a gown by Coco Voci for Cupid's Garden.

After the ceremony, guests devoured hors d'oeuvres and cocktails by a swimming pool that had colorful flower blossoms floating on the surface. "It's great to do something like this for a living and then to be able to have a party with just family and friends," said Best.

Debra Messing, 32, attended with new hubby, actor-writer Daniel Zelman, 33. Best coordinated the "Will & Grace" star's Sept. 3 wedding at a private home overlooking the ocean near Santa Barbara. "Jeffrey was like 007, running around with a headset the whole time," Messing joked.

Dinner was served under a tent, lit by antique brass lanterns. After an hour or so of dancing to disco tunes, weary revelers were pleased to see an In-N-Out Burger truck arrive in the parking lot with snacks.

Like most Best bashes, the wedding prompted a noise complaint. Undeterred, the planner's planners turned the music down, and guests partied on.

Asked during the hubbub if it was rough to coordinate a party for a professional party planner, a nervous-looking young man admitted it was. "It's like performing surgery on a surgeon."

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SoCal Confidential runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Booth Moore can be reached at booth.moore@latimes.com.

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