Thursday, July 23, 2009

Finding Walker Evans

By: Michelle L. Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions
I must’ve been in about 6th grade or so when I first learned about Walker Evans and his work for the Farm Security Administration from 1935-1936. I imagine that my classmates and I simply learned that he took pictures of people suffering during the Great Depression – or at least that’s what we had to remember for the exam! But for some reason, Walker Evans and the story of the FSA has stuck with me all these years. By the time I was in college, though, taking an introductory art history class, my classmates and I were debating whether or not Evans’ images were pure propaganda. I don’t recall a lot of discussion about the artistic merits of his FSA photographs during that class. We all agreed that Walker Evans was “important” but we all had different reasons why we thought that.
So, when an old friend of Fenimore Art Museum told us about an innovative Walker Evans exhibition a few years ago, I was very excited. A colleague of mine, Chris Rossi, went to New York to take a peek at the show and came back with nothing but praise. I remember her saying, “Michelle, I’ve seen the picture of Bud Field’s Family thousands of times, but I’ve never noticed the cat under the bed. The detail in the prints is outstanding.”
Walker Evans: Carbon and Silver is organized by John Hill, who taught with Evans at the Yale School of Art and was the executor of his Estate. Hill presents a new perspective on Evans’ work by comparing photographs printed during Evans’ lifetime with contemporary ink-jet prints made from digital files, created from scans of original negatives. The enlarged ink-jet prints reveal intricate details that are less accessible in the earlier versions of the images on view, which include vintage gelatin silver prints, books and magazines.
Next time, we’ll go into even more detail on this fascinating exhibition. Can’t wait for more? Here are a couple of essays you may want to read: John Szarkowski's essay in the Museum of Modern Art catalog of the Evans' 1971 retrospective, and Lincoln Kirstein's afterword for Walker Evans’ American Photographs.

This exhibition is made possible in part by The Lisette Model Foundation and The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

Walker Evans: Carbon and Silver is on view through December 31, 2009.
Top: Walker Evans, 1937
Center: Bud Field's Family, 1936
Bottom: Installing Walker Evans: Carbon and Silver at Fenimore Art Museum, July 2009

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