In my reading about the great American photographer Walker Evans, I stumbled across this quote from Evans in his advice to his photography students at Yale (as cited in Walker Evans at Work):
“Work alone if you can. Girls are particularly distracting, and you want to concentrate; you *have* to. This is not anti-feminism; it is common sense. Companions you may be with, unless perfectly patient and slavish to your genius, are bored stiff with what you’re doing. This will make itself felt and ruin your concentrated, sustained purpose.”
It is so easy to get lost in yourself when shooting images – and the work almost demands it. Evans’ advice rings very true for me!
“Evans’s lifelong habit was to make several versions of each picture, often with different lenses or cameras. The reasons for this practice have to do with the photographer’s many-leveled relationship to his world. A photographer responds to a world of things which he at once sees, experiences and understands. When he is faced with stimulating subject matter, his immediate task is to make what sense he can of the components of seeing – camera distance, perspective, framing, light and gesture, all of which may be telling him important, perhaps contradictory, things at the same time. In addition, he is bedeviled by connections his mind is making between what he sees and what he knows – what he has read and lived, pictures he has seen, how he was raised, and a thousand other things. To be a good artist means to devise a personal strategy for reconciling the elements of this rich assault.”
Last Thursday, I attended a lecture on Walker Evans given by Jeff L. Rosenheim at Stanford’s Cantor Art Center. Rosenheim is Curator, Department of Photographs, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – and a leading authority on Walker Evans. The Cantor has a comprehensive exhibition of Evans’ work on display currently – it’s a delight to enjoy.
Rosenheim divided his talk into three parts – a biographical introduction to Evans, his primary years photographing New York, Paris, Havana, and the American South, and his later years at Fortune and Yale. A frustrated writer, Evans turned to photography instead – and made photographs that have become the iconic images that document life in American in those days.
As I’ve been spending a bit more time studying the works of Evans, I found a wonderful volume at my local Menlo Park Library this morning titled “Unclassified – A Walker Evans Anthology” edited by Rosenheim and published by the Metropolitan in 2000.
In the introduction to this volume, Maria Morris Hambourg, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at the Metropolitan writes:
“…[Evans] sensed that the timbre of the time was conveyed with a peculiar authenticity through vernacular things rather than formal or academic expressions, and he therefore made a habit of studying billboards, roadside stands, wrecked cars, rural churches, graffiti, and trash for signal significance. Shifting attention from the ideal to the ordinary, he leveled the landscape of art.”
From the ideal to the ordinary – Evans made the ordinary so special. Walking through this exhibition of his images, you can see the most ordinary elements of American life through Evans’ special eye. Remarkable.
Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts. – Walker Evans