Eggs gathered by a student, Bethune-Cookman College by Gordon Parks
8"x8" ($35) | 11"x11" ($75) | 16"x16" ($260) | 20"x20" ($650) | 24"x24" ($1000)
Hey spring chickens. This egg-cellent (and, can we just say, egg-stremely Easter-apropos) new Vintage Edition comes from the Farm Security Administration’s incredible archives of Gordon Parks images. For those not yet familiar, Parks was a renowned artist best known for his career in documentary photojournalism, the first Black photographer at LIFE and Vogue, and one of the first Black Americans to produce and direct major motion pictures. He was a profoundly important trailblazer, and a standout visual artist in any company. Today’s limited-edition release typifies so much of what we love about his work: deeply thoughtful compositions, compelling lighting, sensitivity, a strong visual narrative, and an emphasis on the Black American experience. Eggs gathered by a student, Bethune-Cookman College goes over easy in any art collection.
While working with the FSA, Parks honed his photographic ethos and style, permeating his practice with powerful images that explored civil rights, the socioeconomic impact of racism, and Black American life. He shot Eggs gathered by a student, Bethune-Cookman College in 1943 while on assignment at Bethune-Cookman College—a private, historically-black university in Daytona Beach, Florida. As the title suggests, this image pictures the hands of a student collecting eggs at the school farm. The agricultural program tasked students with tending to chickens, cows, hogs, and other animals, teaching functional, efficient farming methods in the process. In his photograph, Parks commemorates that endeavor with respect, and the result is seriously striking.
The eggs are in sharp focus, a shallow depth of field blurring the hay-strewn background. This keeps the attention on the fragile beauty of those gleaming shells, the subtle, gorgeous variation in their grays. Parks caught the crisp shadows cast by the midday light, creating a contrast-rich image that elevates something as simple as an egg to an object of splendor, the gathering of them to an art-form. Two brown hands steady the smooth ovoids on a platter, custodians of their eggish elegance. The hands are strong but feminine, and a swath of what looks like a corduroy skirt further suggests the student pictured is a woman. The eggs are the spoils of her efforts and symbols of self-nourishment. Parks’ close-up composition and considerate minimalism in capturing Eggs gathered by a student, Bethune-Cookman College reflect the care put into the program and the college’s intention to educate its students and arm them with practical knowledge.
The backbone of Bethune-Cookman College, Mary Mcleod Bethune was an esteemed Black leader, and perhaps the preeminent Black American woman of her time. As an educator, Bethune believed vocational training was essential for Black self-sufficiency, and approached her educational platform accordingly. It was a controversial take, questioned by other Black activists like Ida B. Wells, who saw higher education as a crucial stepping stone to the kinds of thought leaders the movement needed. Bethune was also an organizer, and one of only a handful of Black people in influential positions in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. She was founder and president of the National Council of Negro Women, an amalgamation of 28 organizations committed to advancing Black women’s rights. Among the organization’s achievements: it successfully lobbied for the inclusion of Black women in the Women Army Corps training programs during World War II. Those women would go on to become heroes. Yep—the very same heroes pictured here.
Eggs gathered by a student, Bethune-Cookman College represents the convergence of two pioneering figures in Black America History: Bethune and Parks. It also references Black futures (of the past), an investment in the young, and the potential value of earth-based and agricultural education. And like all our Vintage Editions, there’s only so many of these out there. Snag yours before it flies the coop.
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