Evans' Images: Architecture


The image at left, of St.Matthew's School, in Alabama, 1936, is an example of Evans' affinity for finding architectural beauty in the common. The beauty of the building lies in the texture, and geometric patterns of the wood. There are different shades of grey among the two roofs, the top part of the wall, most of the wall, the doors, the windows, the stair, and of course the sign, that says,"St Matthew's School." Also, these various shades are rendered differently by the sunlight or shade--and, do not exclude the surrounding trees. In fact, the various shades of the house might be due to the various types of trees from which it was made (I do not know how to build a house...). The point, though, is that Evans realizes the beauty in all of this, and makes his picture reinforce it. He is aware of the differences in light(sunlight and shade), in geometric patterns and shapes, and in contrast to the wilderness surrounding it.

Evans includes the surrounding trees to give you a sense of place. This is the school of a poor, rural, farming community--it is not on main street, across from the movie theatre of a typical urban American city.

Technically, Evans relies on long depth of field to keep everything in focus, and he acheives maximum rendering of texture, by using the 8x10 (large format) view camera, which allows for a crisp, detailed image--in contrast to the "grainy" image produced by enlarging a small format negative(35 mm).
Also, Evans chooses to shoot the school without students or teachers nearby, nor from the inside. Those elements are to be interpretted by the viewer, by paying attention to the building itself. What kind of people do you think would attend or teach at a school like this one? Poor and simple come to my mind. Evans finds beauty in that simplicity and poverty, while he also hints at a description of the people who use this building, without having to include them in the image.

Much of the same goes for this image of a tin building-front in Alabama, 1936. Evans said of the scene: [I] "was taken in by the cross light on silvery, corrugated tin. This was just in itself so beautiful, I set my camera up, knocked over by the barren look of the false front, and how the pile of dirt added to it."
Evans' comments explain his artistic tendencies, which, for him, seem to have precedence over his mere assignment to document. However, as a result, the pictures that Evans saw in an artistic sense, came to be used by the FSA, in a documentary sense.
Evans, in a 1971 interview said: "When you say 'documentary,' you have to have a sophisticated ear to receive that word. It should be documentary style, beacuse documentary is police photography of a scene and a murder...That's real document. You see art is really useless, and a document has use. And therefore art is never a document, but it can adopt that style. I do it. I'm called a documentary photographer. But that presupposes a quite subtle knowledge of the distinction."

Thus, Evans fused the gap between photography as an art, and photography as a research method, by taking the regular and making it unique, by taking the common and making it beautiful, and by taking the specific and making it speak for the broad.

As James Curtis writes in Mind's Eye, Mind's Truth: Evans believed his photographs were
self-explanatory;the presence of words implied that the image was somehow deficient.
With that thought in mind, take a look at the two photographs below. Notice, (at left)
Evans' excellent use of natural light(coming through the doorway from the right) in this
interior shot. Evans rarely used flash.


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