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