part four: Walker Evans' Images

Evans' success was that his images appear to be objective--do not forget, though, that all photographs are subjective--they are the photographer's evaluations/interpretations of the world before his eye . Thus, one must be aware of the paradoxical nature of this argument: that Evans' objective, realistic, "documentary" style is his own subjectivity. I think it will become clear, when looking at some photos.

The images below are 11 of Evans' photos used in the FSA file. Evans was the least prolific of all the FSA photographers--this is a testament to his excellence as a photographer, technically, as well as aesthetically--for he knew what he wanted the image to look like, and did not have to make numerous attempts at getting the image he wanted. You will notice in these images what James Curtis refers to as a "sobering clarity, and understated simplicity." These characteristics create the "realistic," objective quality of Evans' work. Evans' first attraction (before Photography) was literature, and you will notice that his images have a literary quality to them--that is, that the figures, the places, and the subjects seem to be representative of the greater context within which they exist, i.e., America--not just the specific subject itself. (His images are not solipsistic).

Evans expressed his admiration for Gustave Flaubert: "...the non-appearance of author, the non-subjectivity. That is literally applicable to the way I want to us the camera and do." Evans, like Flaubert, saught to abandon any form of romantic idealism in his images. He acheives this realism, by using subjects that are of the everyday--often street scenes, or material objects such as a pair of shoes, or a sign on the wall--that seem to speak as symbols of the world in which they are a part, and for the people who live in their enviornment. Evans found a beauty in banal objects that other FSA photographers would carelessly ignore. Part of his attraction to buildings, and patterns is rooted in his previous architectural work, that he did in New England in 1931. His images show that architecture can be as representative of a people as the people themselves.

Many of you may be more familiar with Evans' images for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which were also included in the FSA file--these images are coming up--but first, I wanted to show you some less popular images, that serve as good examples of Evans' style

Please click on the images below, to see larger versions of each image with some explanatory text--I have divided these images into three groups--in order to facilitate viewing all the images. I hope you will get a sense for Evans' "documentary style," which Jerry L.Thompson accurately describes as: "deliberately wrought visual poetry disguised as plain prosaic fact."

Walker Evans' Photographs

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