Posts Tagged ‘Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper

02
Feb
18

Exhibition: ‘Walker Evans’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Exhibition dates: 30th September 2017 – 4th February 2018

Curator: Clément Chéroux

 

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Self-Portrait' 1927

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Self-Portrait
1927
Gelatin silver print
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

I have posted on this exhibition before, when it was at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, but this iteration at SFMOMA is the exclusive United States venue for the Walker Evans retrospective exhibition – and the new posting contains fresh media images not available previously.

I can never get enough of Walker Evans. This perspicacious artist had a ready understanding of the contexts and conditions of the subject matter he was photographing. His photographs seem easy, unpretentious, and allow his sometimes “generally unaware” subjects (subway riders, labor workers) to speak for themselves. Does it matter that he was an outsider, rearranging furniture in workers homes while they were out in the fields: not at all. Photography has always falsified truth since the beginning of the medium and, in any case, there is never a singular truth but many truths told from many perspectives, many different points of view. For example, who is to say that the story of America proposed by Robert Frank in The Americans, from the point of view of an outsider, is any less valuable than that of Helen Levitt’s view of the streets of New York? For different reasons, both are as valuable as each other.

Evans’ photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documenting the effects of the Great Depression on American life are iconic because they are cracking good photographs, not because he was an insider or outsider. He was paid to document, to enquire, and that is what he did, by getting the best shot he could. It is fascinating to compare Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama (1936, below) with Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs (1936, below). In the first photograph the strong diagonal element of the composition is reinforced by the parallel placement of the three feet, the ‘Z’ shape of Lucille Burroughs leg then leading into her upright body, which is complemented by the two vertical door jams, Floyd’s head silhouetted by the darkness beyond. There is something pensive about the clasping of his hands, and something wistful and sad, an energy emanating from the eyes. If you look at the close up of his face, you can see that it is “soft” and out of focus, either because he moved and/or the low depth of field. Notice that the left door jam is also out of focus, that it is just the hands of both Floyd and Lucille and her face that are in focus. Does this low depth of field and lack of focus bother Evans? Not one bit, for he knows when he has captured something magical.

A few second later, he moves closer to Floyd Burroughs. You can almost hear him saying to Floyd, “Stop, don’t move a thing, I’m just going to move the camera closer.” And in the second photograph you notice the same wood grain to the right of Floyd as in the first photograph, but this time the head is tilted slightly more, the pensive look replaced by a steely gaze directed straight into the camera, the reflection of the photographer and the world beyond captured on the surface of the eye. Walker Evans is the master of recognising the extra/ordinary. “The street was an inexhaustible source of poetic finds,” describes Chéroux. In his creation of visual portfolios of everyday life, his “notions of realism, of the spectator’s role, and of the poetic resonance of ordinary subjects,” help Evans created a mythology of American life: a clear vision of the present as the past, walking into the future.

With the contemporary decline of small towns and blue collar communities across the globe Evans’ concerns, for the place of ordinary people and objects in the world, are all the more relevant today. As the text from the Metropolitan Museum observes, it is the individuals and social institutions that are the sites and relics that constitute the tangible expressions of American desires, despairs, and traditions. And not just of American people, of all people… for it is community that binds us together.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Walker Evans is one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. His elegant, crystal-clear photographs and articulate publications have inspired several generations of artists, from Helen Levitt and Robert Frank to Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. 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 a people found in roadside stands, cheap cafés, advertisements, simple bedrooms, and small-town main 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 encyclopaedic visual catalogue of modern America in the making. …

Most of Evans’ early photographs reveal the influence of European modernism, specifically its formalism and emphasis on dynamic graphic structures. But he gradually moved away from this highly aestheticized style to develop his own evocative but more reticent notions of realism, of the spectator’s role, and of the poetic resonance of ordinary subjects. …

In September 1938, the Museum of Modern Art opened American Photographs, a retrospective of Evans’ first decade of photography. The museum simultaneously published American Photographs – still for many artists the benchmark against which all photographic monographs are judged. The book begins with a portrait of American society through its individuals – cotton farmers, Appalachian miners, war veterans – and social institutions – fast food, barber shops, car culture. It closes with a survey of factory towns, hand-painted signs, country churches, and simple houses – the sites and relics that constitute the tangible expressions of American desires, despairs, and traditions.

Between 1938 and 1941, Evans produced a remarkable series of portraits in the New York City subway. They remained unpublished for twenty-five years, until 1966, when Houghton Mifflin released Many Are Called, a book of eighty-nine photographs, with an introduction by James Agee written in 1940. With a 35mm Contax camera strapped to his chest, its lens peeking out between two buttons of his winter coat, Evans was able to photograph his fellow passengers surreptitiously, and at close range. Although the setting was public, he found that his subjects, unposed and lost in their own thoughts, displayed a constantly shifting medley of moods and expressions – by turns curious, bored, amused, despondent, dreamy, and dyspeptic. “The guard is down and the mask is off,” he remarked. “Even more than in lone bedrooms (where there are mirrors), people’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.”

Extract from Department of Photographs. “Walker Evans (1903-1975),” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000- (October 2004)

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Truck and Sign' 1928-1930

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Truck and Sign
1928-30
Gelatin silver print
Private collection, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama' 1936 (detail)

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama (detail)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs
1936
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 18.4 cm
Collection particulière, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Fernando Maquieira, Cromotex

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale Country, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print; private collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

“These are not photographs like those of Walker Evans who in James Agee’s account in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men took his pictures of the bare floors and iron bedsteads of the American mid-western sharecroppers while they were out tending their failing crops, and who even, as the evidence of his negatives proves, rearranged the furniture for a ‘better shot’. The best shot that Heilig could take was one that showed things as they were and as they should not be. …

To call these ‘socially-conscious documentary’ photographs is to acknowledge the class from which the photographer [Heilig] comes, not to see them as the result of a benign visit by a more privileged individual [Evans], however well-intentioned.”

Extract from James McCardle. “Weapon,” on the On This Day In Photography website [Online] Cited 29/01/2018

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Sidewalk and Shopfront, New Orleans' 1935

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Sidewalk and Shopfront, New Orleans
1935
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Willard Van Dyke
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Fish Market near Birmingham, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Roadside Stand Near Birmingham/Roadside Store Between Tuscaloosa and Greensboro, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Penny Picture Display, Savannah' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Penny Picture Display, Savannah
1936
Gelatin silver print
Pilara Foundation Collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Subway Portrait' January 1941

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-41
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-41
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans. 'Subway Passengers, New York' 1938

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-41
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1903–1975 New Haven, Connecticut) '[Subway Passengers, New York City]' 1938

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
1938-41
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Subway Portraits' 1938-1941

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Subway Portraits
1938-1941
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

Exhibition Displays Over 400 Photographs, Paintings, Graphic Ephemera and Objects from the Artist’s Personal Collection

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will be the exclusive United States venue for the retrospective exhibition Walker Evans, on view September 30, 2017, through February 4, 2018. As one of the preeminent photographers of the 20th century, Walker Evans’ 50-year body of work documents and distills the essence of life in America, leaving a legacy that continues to influence generations of contemporary photographers and artists. The exhibition will encompass all galleries in the museum’s Pritzker Center for Photography, the largest space dedicated to the exhibition, study and interpretation of photography at any art museum in the United States.

“Conceived as a complete retrospective of Evans’ work, this exhibition highlights the photographer’s fascination with American popular culture, or vernacular,” explains Clément Chéroux, senior curator of photography at SFMOMA. “Evans was intrigued by the vernacular as both a subject and a method. By elevating it to the rank of art, he created a unique body of work celebrating the beauty of everyday life.”

Using examples from Evans’ most notable photographs – including iconic images from his work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) documenting the effects of the Great Depression on American life; early visits to Cuba; street photography and portraits made on the New York City subway; layouts and portfolios from his more than 20-year collaboration with Fortune magazine and 1970s Polaroids – Walker Evans explores Evans’ passionate search for the fundamental characteristics of American vernacular culture: the familiar, quotidian street language and symbols through which a society tells its own story. Decidedly popular and more linked to the masses than the cultural elite, vernacular culture is perceived as the antithesis of fine art.

While many previous exhibitions of Evans’ work have drawn from single collections, Walker Evans will feature over 300 vintage prints from the 1920s to the 1970s on loan from the important collections at major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Canada, the Musée du Quai Branly and SFMOMA’s own collection, as well as prints from private collections from around the world. More than 100 additional objects and documents, including examples of the artist’s paintings; items providing visual inspiration sourced from Evans’ personal collections of postcards, graphic arts, enamelled plates, cut images and signage; as well as his personal scrapbooks and ephemera will be on display. The exhibition is curated by the museum’s new senior curator of photography, Clément Chéroux, who joined SFMOMA in 2017 from the Musée National d’Art Moderne of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, organizer of the exhibition.

While most exhibitions devoted to Walker Evans are presented chronologically, Walker Evans‘ presentation is thematic. The show begins with an introductory gallery displaying Evans’ early modernist work whose style he quickly rejected in favour of focusing on the visual portfolio of everyday life. The exhibition then examines Evans’ captivation with the vernacular in two thematic contexts. The first half of the exhibition will focus on many of the subjects that preoccupied Evans throughout his career, including text-based images such as signage, shop windows, roadside stands, billboards and other examples of typography. Iconic images of the Great Depression, workers and stevedores, street photography made surreptitiously on New York City’s subways and avenues and classic documentary images of life in America complete this section. By presenting this work thematically, the exhibition links work separated by time and place and highlights Evans’ preoccupation with certain subjects and recurrent themes. The objects that moved him were ordinary, mass-produced and intended for everyday use. The same applied to the people he photographed – the ordinary human faces of office workers, labourers and people on the street.

“The street was an inexhaustible source of poetic finds,” describes Chéroux.

The second half of the exhibition explores Evans’ fascination with the methodology of vernacular photography, or styles of applied photography that are considered useful, domestic and popular. Examples include architecture, catalog and postcard photography as well as studio portraiture, and the exhibition juxtaposes this work with key source materials from the artist’s personal collections of 10,000 postcards, hand-painted signage and graphic ephemera (tickets, flyers, logos and brochures). Here Evans elevates vernacular photography to art, despite his disinclination to create fine art photographs. Rounding out this section are three of Evans’ paintings using vernacular architecture as inspiration. The exhibition concludes with Evans’ look at photography itself, with a gallery of photographs that unite Evans’ use of the vernacular as both a subject and a method.

 

About Walker Evans

Born in St. Louis, Walker Evans (1903-1975) was educated at East Coast boarding schools, Williams College, the Sorbonne and College de France before landing in New York in the late 1920s. Surrounded by an influential circle of artists, poets and writers, it was there that he gradually redirected his passion for writing into a career as a photographer, publishing his first photograph in the short-lived avant-garde magazine Alhambra. The first significant exhibition of his work was in 1938, when the Museum of Modern Art, New York presented Walker Evans: American Photographs, the first major solo exhibition at the museum devoted to a photographer.

In the 50 years that followed, Evans produced some of the most iconic images of his time, contributing immensely to the visibility of American culture in the 20th century and the documentary tradition in American photography. Evans’ best known photographs arose from his work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), in which he documented the hardships and poverty of Depression-era America using a large-format, 8 x 10-inch camera. These photographs, along with his photojournalism projects from the 1940s and 1950s, his iconic visual cataloguing of the common American and his definition of the “documentary style,” have served as a monumental influence to generations of photographers and artists.

Press release from SFMOMA

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Resort Photographer at Work' 1941

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Resort Photographer at Work
1941, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Untitled [Street scene]' 1950s

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Untitled [Street scene]
1950s
Gouache on paper
Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Street Debris, New York City' 1968

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Street Debris, New York City
1968
Gelatin silver print
Private collection, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) '"Labor Anonymous,” Fortune 34, no. 5, November 1946' 1946

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
“Labor Anonymous,” Fortune 34, no. 5, November 1946
1946
Offset lithography
Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Collection of David Campany
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) '"The Pitch Direct. The Sidewalk Is the Last Stand of Unsophisticated Display," Fortune 58, no. 4, October 1958' 1958

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
“The Pitch Direct. The Sidewalk Is the Last Stand of Unsophisticated Display,” Fortune 58, no. 4, October 1958
1958
Offset lithography
Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Collection of David Campany
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Collage with Thirty-Six Ticket Stubs' 1975

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Collage with Thirty-Six Ticket Stubs
1975
Cut and pasted photomechanical prints on paper
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Unidentified Sign Painter. 'Coca-Cola Thermometer' 1930-70

 

Unidentified Sign Painter
Coca-Cola Thermometer
1930-70
Enamel on ferrous metal
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Chain-Nose Pliers' 1955

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Chain-Nose Pliers
1955
Gelatin silver print
The Bluff Collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

John T. Hill. 'Interior of Walker Evans's House, Fireplace with Painting of Car' 1975, printed 2017

 

John T. Hill
Interior of Walker Evans’s House, Fireplace with Painting of Car
1975, printed 2017
Inkjet print
Private collection
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Lenoir Book Co., 'Main Street, Showing Confederate Monument, Lenoir, North Carolina' 1900-40

 

Lenoir Book Co.,
Main Street, Showing Confederate Monument, Lenoir, North Carolina
1900-40
Offset lithography
Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Walker Evans Archive
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

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08
Aug
17

Exhibition: ‘Walker Evans’ at the Centre Pompidou, Paris

Exhibition dates: 26th April 2017 – 14th August 2017

Curator: Mnam/Cci, Clément Cheroux

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Stamped Tin Relic' 1929

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Stamped Tin Relic
1929
Gelatin silver print
23.3 x 28 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris Achat en 1996
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Centre Pompidou / Dist.RMN-GP

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Coney Island Beach' c. 1929

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Coney Island Beach
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
22.5 x 31 cm
The J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

The un/ordinariness of ordinariness

What a pleasure.

I’ve never liked the term ‘”vernacular” photography’ because, for me, every time someone presses the shutter of the camera they have a purpose: to capture a scene, however accidental or incidental. That context may lie outside recognised networks of production and legitimation but it does not lie outside performance and ritual. As Catherine Lumby observes, what the promiscuous flow of the contemporary image culture opens up, “is an expanded and abstracted terrain of becoming…. whereby images exceed, incorporate or reverse the values that are presumed to reside within them in a patriarchal social order.”1 Pace Evans.

His art of an alternate order, his vision of a terrain of becoming is so particular, so different it has entered the lexicon of America culture.

Marcus

Walker Evans: “The passionate quest to identify the fundamental features of American vernacular culture… the term “vernacular” designates those popular or informal forms of expression used by ordinary people for everyday purposes – essentially meaning all that falls outside art, outside the recognised networks of production and legitimation, and which in the US thus serves to define a specifically American culture. It is all the little details of the everyday environment that make for “Americanness”: wooden roadside shacks, the way a shopkeeper lays out his wares in the window, the silhouette of the Ford Model T, the pseudo-cursive typography of Coca-Cola signs. It is a crucial notion for the understanding of American culture.” (Text from press release)

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Many thankx to the Centre Pompidou for allowing me to publish the artwork in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

1. Lumby, Catharine. “Nothing Personal: Sex, Gender and Identity in The Media Age,” in Matthews, Jill (ed.,). Sex in Public: Australian Sexual Cultures. St. Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1997, pp. 14-15.

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Truck and Sign' 1928-1930

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Truck and Sign
1928-1930
Gelatin silver print
16.5 x 22.2 cm
Collection particulière, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Fernando Maquieira, Cromotex

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'New York City Street Corner' 1929

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
New York City Street Corner
1929
Gelatin silver print
18.4 x 12.7 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Self-Portrait in Automated Photobooth' 1930

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Self-Portrait in Automated Photobooth
1930
Gelatin silver print
18.3 x 3.8 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist-RMN-GP/Image of the MMA

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Self-Portrait in Automated Photobooth' 1930 (detail)

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Self-Portrait in Automated Photobooth' 1930 (detail)

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Self-Portrait in Automated Photobooth (details)
1930
Gelatin silver print
18.3 x 3.8 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist-RMN-GP/Image of the MMA

 

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) was one of the most important of twentieth-century American photographers. His photographs of the Depression years of the 1930s, his assignments for Fortune magazine in the 1940s and 1950s, and his “documentary style” influenced generations of photographers and artists. His attention to everyday details and the commonplace urban scene did much to define the visual image of 20th-century American culture. Some of his photographs have become iconic.

Conceived as a retrospective of Evans’s work as a whole, the Centre Pompidou exhibition presents three hundred vintage prints in a novel and revelatory thematic organisation. It highlights the photographer’s recurrent concern with roadside buildings, window displays, signs, typography and faces, offering an opportunity to grasp what no doubt lies at the heart of Walker Evans’ work: the passionate quest to identify the fundamental features of American vernacular culture. In an interview of 1971, he explained the attraction as follows: “You don’t want your work to spring from art; you want it to commence from life, and that’s in the street now. I’m no longer comfortable in a museum. I don’t want to go to them, don’t want to be ‘taught’ anything, don’t want to see ‘accomplished’ art. I’m interested in what’s called vernacular. For example, finished, I mean educated, architecture doesn’t interest me, but I love to find American vernacular”.

In the English-speaking countries, and in America more notably, the term “vernacular” designates those popular or informal forms of expression used by ordinary people for everyday purposes – essentially meaning all that falls outside art, outside the recognised networks of production and legitimation, and which in the US thus serves to define a specifically American culture. It is all the little details of the everyday environment that make for “Americanness”: wooden roadside shacks, the way a shopkeeper lays out his wares in the window, the silhouette of the Ford Model T, the pseudo-cursive typography of Coca-Cola signs. It is a crucial notion for the understanding of American culture. It is to be found in the literature as early as the 19th century, but it is only in the late 1920s that it is first deployed in a systematic study of architecture. Its importance in American art would be theorised in the 1940s, by John Atlee Kouwenhoven, a professor of English with a particular interest in American studies who was close to Walker Evans himself.

After an introductory section that looks at Evans’s modernist beginnings, the exhibition introduces the subjects that would fascinate him throughout his career: the typography of signs, the composition of window displays, the frontages of little roadside businesses, and so on. It then goes on to show how Evans himself adopted the methods or visual forms of vernacular photography in becoming, for the time of an assignment, an architectural photographer, a catalogue photographer, an ambulant portrait photographer, while all the time explicitly maintaining the standpoint of an artist.

This exhibition is the first major museum retrospective of Evans’s work in France. Unprecedented in its ambition, it retraces the whole of his career, from his earliest photographs in the 1920s to the Polaroids of the 1970s, through more than 300 vintage prints drawn from the most important American institutions (among them the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.) and also more than a dozen private collections. It also features a hundred or so other exhibits drawn from the post cards, enamel signs, print images and other graphic ephemera that Evans collected his whole life long.

Press release from the Centre Pompidou

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Westchester, New York, farmhouse' 1931

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Westchester, New York, farmhouse
1931
Gelatin silver print pasted on cardboard
18 x 22.1 cm
Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris
© W. Evans Arch., The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Centre Pompidou / Dist. RMN-GP

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York' 1931

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York
1931
Gelatin silver print
18.73 x 16.19 cm
Collection particulière, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Fernando Maquieira, Cromotex

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'License Photo Studio, New York' 1934

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
License Photo Studio, New York
1934
Gelatin silver print
27.9 x 21.6 cm (image: 18.3 x 14.4 cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Penny Picture Display, Savannah' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Penny Picture Display, Savannah
1936
Gelatin silver print
21,9 x 17,6 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York Gift of Willard Van Dyke
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © 2016. Digital Image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Joe's Auto Graveyard' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Joe’s Auto Graveyard
1936
Gelatin silver print
11.43 x 18.73 cm
Collection particulière, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Ian Reeves

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Houses and Billboards in Atlanta' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Houses and Billboards in Atlanta
1936
Gelatin silver print
16.5 x 23.2 cm
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © 2016. Digital Image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

 

 

Curator’s point of view

“You don’t want your work to spring from art; you want it to commence from life, and that’s in the street now. I’m no longer comfortable in a museum. I don’t want to go to them, don’t want to be ‘taught’ anything, don’t want to see ‘accomplished’ art. I’m interested in what’s called vernacular.”

.
Walker Evans, interviewed by Leslie Katz (1971)

 

 

Through more than 400 photographs and documents, this retrospective of the work of Walker Evans (1903-1975) explores the American photographer’s fascination with his country’s vernacular culture. Evans was one of the most important of twentieth-century American photographers. His photographs of the Depression years of the 1930s, his “documentary style” and his interest in American popular culture influenced generations of photographers and artists. Bringing together the best examples of his work, drawn from the most important private and public collections, the exhibition also accords a large place to the artefacts that Evans himself collected throughout his life, to offer a fresh approach to the work of one of the most significant figures in the history of photography.

Study of his images – from the very first photographs of the 1920s to the Polaroids of his last years – reveals a fascination with the utilitarian, the domestic and the local. This interest in popular forms and practices emerged very early, when he started to collect postcards as a teenager. More than ten thousand items he had gathered by the time of his death are now held by the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Other everyday objects from his personal collection – enamel signs, handbills and adverts – are exhibited here.

Walker Evans’s attraction to the vernacular finds expression, above all, in his choice of subjects: Victorian architecture, roadside buildings, shopfronts, cinema posters, placards, signs, etc. His pictures also feature the faces and bodies of ordinary people, whether victims of the Depression or anonymous passers-by. Something else “typically American” was the underside of progress. During the 1930s in particular, the American landscape was strewn with ruin and waste. Evans kept an eye on them ever after. Industrial waste, building debris, automobile carcases, wooden houses in ruins, Louisiana mansions fallen in the world, antiques, garbage, faded interiors, bare patches in exterior render: these were the other face of America. Just as much as the towering skyscraper or the gleaming motor car, all this was an element of the modern. This concern with decline and obsolescence gave the photographer a critical edge and reveals a profound fascination with the mechanisms of overproduction and consumption characteristic of the age.

Evans didn’t just collect the forms of the vernacular, he also borrowed its methods. In many of his images, he adopts the codes of applied photography: the shots in series, the frontality, the apparent objectivity. Waiting, camera in hand on the corner of the street or in the subway, he accumulated portraits of city-dwellers by the dozen, releasing his shutter with the mechanical regularity of a photo booth. Working like a post-card photographer or architectural photographer, Evans built up, in surprisingly systematic fashion, a catalogue of churches, doors, monuments and small-town main streets. Sculptures, wrought-iron chairs, household tools: all seem to have been selected for their unique qualities as objects. The repetitivity, the apparent objectivity and the absence of emphasis in these images are typical of commercial photographs produced to order. In 1935, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, asked Evans to photograph the six hundred sculptures of the exhibition of “African Negro Art”. The method he adopted was that of the catalogue photographer, rigorously avoiding dramatic effects by eliminating shadow; tightly framed and set against a neutral background, the pieces find a new elegance. The photographer would often have recourse to this regime in the years that followed, notably for a portfolio entitled “Beauties of the Common Tool”, published in Fortune magazine in July 1955. This adoption of the forms and procedures of non-artistic photography even as Evans laid claim to art prefigures –  some decades in advance! – the practices of the conceptual artists of the 1960s.

Clément Chéroux
Julie Jones
in Code Couleur, No. 28, May – August 2017, pp. 14-17

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Shoeshine Stand Detail in Southern Town' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Shoeshine Stand Detail in Southern Town
1936
Gelatin silver print
14.5 x 17cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Anonymous Gift
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist-RMN-GP/Image of the MMA

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Negroes' Church, South Carolina' March 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Negroes’ Church, South Carolina
March 1936, circulation April 1969
Gelatin silver print
25.2 x 20.2 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa Acheté en 1969
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Musée des Beaux-Arts du Canada, Ottawa

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Alabama Tenant Farmer Floyd Bourroughs
1936
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 18.4 cm
Collection particulière, San Francisco
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Fernando Maquieira, Cromotex

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale Country, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale Country, Alabama
1936
Gelatin silver print
22.3 x 17.3 cm
Collection particulière
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Collection particulière

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Subway Portrait' January 1941

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Subway Portrait
January 1941
Gelatin silver print
20.9 x 19.1 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington Gift of Kent and Marcia Minichiello, in Honour of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Resort Photographer at Work' 1941

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Resort Photographer at Work
1941
Gelatin silver print, later print
15.9 x 22.4 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Anna Maria, Florida' October 1958

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Anna Maria, Florida
October 1958
Oil on fiberboard
40 × 50.2 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Walker Evans Archive, 1994
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image of the MMA

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Untitled, Detroit' 1946

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Untitled, Detroit
1946
Gelatin silver print
16 x 11.4 cm
Fondation A.Stichting, Bruxelles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © Fondation A.Stichting, Bruxelles

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975) 'Tin Snips by J. Wiss and Sons Co., $1.85' 1955

 

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Tin Snips by J. Wiss and Sons Co., $1.85
1955
Gelatin silver print
25.2 x 20.3 cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: © The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Centre Pompidou 
75191 Paris cedex 04
Tel: 00 33 (0)1 44 78 12 33

Opening hours:
Exhibition open every day from 11 am – 9 pm except on Tuesday
Closed on May 1st

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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