Walker Evans at work

Walker Evans at Work (1983) (s.l.): Thames & Hudson, London.

I came across this in my local library. Over seven hundred photographs by Walker Evans along with notes by him and others around projects he worked on during his career.

The images and texts are ordered – with a couple of minor exceptions – chronologically. This is more than useful in that it reinforces his own words about the development of his viewpoint. In 1929 he took many photographs of Brooklyn Bridge that highlight shapes and patterns, images very much in the modernist style. In an interview for American TV in 1971 he said “I wouldn’t photograph them that way now. I developed a much straighter style later on” (Evans,1983:42). He did not change to a more straightforward style overnight; this came over time and during that time he did experiment further with modernist photographs ; a set of images of shells from 1934 are reminiscent of photographs of flowers taken by Imogen Cunningham several years earlier.

Photographs taken in Cuba and Florida show him moving to a more simple documentary style. These and his work for the Farm Services Administration show a definite empathy for his subjects, as well as wanting to show locations simply as they are. Although there is little in the way of editorial oversight in the images themselves, the book does highlight areas where he would crop photographs if he felt it improved the image. As someone who does find it awkward asking people if I can photograph them, I found comforting that to a certain extent this has always been an issue. From the same 1971 interview he says “We went into their house as paying guests, and we told them what we were doing, and we sort of paid them for that” (Evans,1983:125). If in doubt, money always helps.

I do like the simplicity he brought to a lot of his photography; in some ways he seems a precursor to the whole ‘deadpan’ aesthetic. Photographs of tools from 1955 (Evans,1983:208) are not too far removed from the works of Bernd and Hilla Becher. A series of images of Chicago buildings from 1946 are even more reminiscent.

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