Thursday, November 03, 2011

Happy Birthday, Walker

sharecropper kitchen corner

Let us now praise Walker Evans, portrait-maker of America, who was born today in 1903. Of his work, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art says
Evans' elegant crystal-clear photographs and articulate publications inspired artists of several generations, from Helen Levitt to William Eggleston. The progenitor of the documentary tradition in American photography, Evans had the extraordinary ability to see the present as if it were already the past and to translate that knowledge and historically inflected vision into an enduring art. His principal subject was the vernacular -- the indigenous expressions of people found in roadside stands, cheap caf├ęs, advertisements, simple bedrooms, and small-town streets. For fifty years, from the late 1920s to the early 1970s, Evans recorded the American scene with the nuance of a poet and the precision of a surgeon, creating an encyclopedic visual catalogue of modern America in the making.
Probably his greatest work came in 1941 when he co-published, along with James Agee, the ground-breaking book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The book chronicled the pair's journey through the rural South during the Great Depression - words by Agee, photos by Evans, presenting a stark yet deeply moving portrait of rural poverty. The pairing of the anguished dissonance of Agee's prose and the quiet, magisterial beauty of Evans' photographs of sharecroppers makes this book a powerful, wrenching experience.

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