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Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye
Article added on December 28, 2005, updated on January 4, 2005
  
Thames & Hudson have re-edited in paperback Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye, the book which accompanied the landmark exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1993.

Although Walker Evans rejected the label of "fine art photographer", a simple look at the body of work of the American photographer shows that nonetheless he was a fine artist. He combined the clarity of purpose with an aesthetic sense. In addition to the precision and lucidity of his photographs, the exhibition Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye intended to show an additional, previously neglected side of the artist, "a man who was one of the most intellectually stimulating practitioners of modern photography", as Gilles Mora pointed out in his introduction.

Walker Evans was a "tireless experimenter", who covered a lot of ground. The exhibition focused not only on his famous photographs of the 1930s, but also on lesser known projects: "the deconstruction of the photographic portrait; the use of the random as a creative principle; reflections on the appropriation of the consumer image; seriality and archive-making in the photographic process; the role of the vernacular object, its photographic use and its collection; the ambiguity in photography of art and document, and the part it plays in the media." Last, but not least, he was obsessed with the question of anonymity, a leitmotif of his oeuvre. Before Pop Art, the Bechers and others, "he glimpsed of the future of photography, freed from the aesthetic of the subject."

According to Gilles Mora, Walker Evans placed himself within the documentary context. However, he saw further than the much-acclaimed transparency of his photographs. His works were neither innocent nor naive. He influenced important artists coming after him, including Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus.

In the 1960s, conceptual artists such as Dan Graham and Sherrie Levine realized the importance of Evan's photographs for their own work. In 1963, Andy Warhol referred explicitly to Walker Evans in a series of photos in tribute to Robert Rauschenberg: He called it Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, named after Evan's celebrated book.

For Gilles Mora, "the most remarkable thing about Evans was certainly the complexity and intelligence that allowed him, very gently and without seeming to do anything, to "wrong-foot" all the photographic attitudes of his time." 

Literature was a main source of inspiration for the American photographer, he constantly made allusions to Charles Baudelaire, Gustave Flaubert, Marcel Proust, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway and above all James Joyce. Nonetheless, Walker Evans focused "on the particular over the symbolic".

He was opposed to the militant idealism of art and of his age. Instead, he opted for cynicism and exploited the administrative structures of Washington. for his own purposes.

At the same time, he was a man full of contradictions. He declared that he hated museums and preferred the street. At the same time, more than one of his works hang on the walls of famous museums, "as the unofficial favorite photographer of the Museum of Modern Art".

Small articles preceding the chapters of Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye explore his oeuvre from 1927 to 1975, including his early abstractions, New York Streets, Tahiti, Havana, The Deep South, The Farm Security Administration, American Photographs, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Labor Anonymous, Signs and Graffiti, Color and many more subjects. The book's only major disappointment is the tiny photos in the chapter "American Photographs", dedicated to his famous 1938 exhibition.


Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye
. Thames & Hudson, 2004 (1993), with 470 illustrations, 445 in duotone, 25 in colour. Get the book from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. The article on the left is based on the book's introduction by Gilles Mora.





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