Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch
Princeton University Press, 2020
Walker Evans (1903–75) was a great American artist photographing people and places in the United States in unforgettable ways. He is known for his work for the Farm Security Administration, addressing the Great Depression, but what he actually saw was the diversity of people and the damage of the long Civil War. In Walker Evans, renowned art historian Svetlana Alpers explores how Evans made his distinctive photographs. Delving into a lavish selection of Evans’s work, Alpers uncovers rich parallels between his creative approach and those of numerous literary and cultural figures, locating Evans within the wide context of a truly international circle.
Alpers demonstrates that Evans’s practice relied on his camera choices and willingness to edit multiple versions of a shot, as well as his keen eye and his distant straight-on view of visual objects. Illustrating the vital role of Evans’s dual love of text and images, Alpers places his writings in conversation with his photographs. She brings his techniques into dialogue with the work of a global cast of important artists—from Flaubert and Baudelaire to Elizabeth Bishop and William Faulkner—underscoring how Evans’s travels abroad in such places as France and Cuba, along with his expansive literary and artistic tastes, informed his quintessentially American photographic style.
A magisterial account of a great twentieth-century artist, Walker Evans urges us to look anew at the act of seeing the world—to reconsider how Evans saw his subjects, how he saw his photographs, and how we can see his images as if for the first time.