Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Photography: Document and Art

Walker Evans once said 'Leaving aside the mysteries and the inequities of human talent. brains, taste, and reputations, the matter of art in photography may come down to this: it is the capture and projection of the delights of seeing; it is the defining of observation full and felt.'

He was one of my photographic heroes. His work for the Farm Security Administration, which was part of the public relations blitz Franklin Roosevelt initiated to put forward his New Deal policies, produced iconic images that stand out in the history of American photography. Evans was a pioneer in the process of turning documentary into fine art photography. The Museum of Modern Art, in New York, has recently re-released an edition of his work, American Photographs, which is available on Amazon.

The best way to view and learn from the work of photographers is to see the actual prints of their work in galleries or museums (or on your own wall if you have the disposable income). Way back in second place as a medium for viewing is in photography books, and way back of that in a distant third place is on a computer screen. The reason I mention this is because after receiving my copy of the new Evans book, I pulled two other editions of his work from my bookshelf: Walker Evans - America (published by Rizzolli) and Walker Evans - Havana (published by Pantheon books. Not only is the print quality at great variance between the books, but the toning, cropping, and paper quality differ to such an extent that in many cases comparing a photograph in the different editions could lead one to think he was looking at an entirely different image.

My image for the day, which is in no way presented to compare myself to Walker Evans, interested me because the hand gesture and facial expression of the gentleman on the left gives the impression that he's pontificating about something important, the other people in the image are paying him no attention. The gentleman directly to his left, who I think is the intended audience, seems much more interested in my taking his photograph than what he is being told.