Thursday, August 20, 2009

Walker Evans and Allie Mae Burroughs

By: Michelle L. Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions
The last time we talked about our new exhibition, Walker Evans: Carbon and Silver, we learned about Evans’ early artistic career and the beginning of his work for President Roosevelt’s Farm Security Administration. Today, let’s look at one of Evans’ most famous photos from his FSA work, Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer’s Wife (Allie Mae Burroughs) (1936) and how curator John Hill has helped us to see her with a fresh perspective. Below is text by Hill and Jerry L. Thompson, Evans’ student and assistant:
Many of us recognize Allie Mae without looking closely at her. We don’t really scan the image for details, and we tend to think about her as we did the first few times, or first few dozen times, we saw her. We have seen Allie Mae, and Evans’ other FSA images, so often that we might say we recognize them rather than really look at them. However, through the process of scanning the negatives and printing the images on a large scale, details that we never noticed before became suddenly obvious, and refresh the image as if it were the first time we’ve seen it.

Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer’s Wife is shot in Evans’s signature straightforward and dispassionate style, yet it evokes depths of emotion and character. Posed against the weathered boards of her farmhouse, her powerful gaze and enigmatic expression convey both strength and weariness. As with many subjects that Evans knew would be of extraordinary interest, he made 4 exposures of the portrait. Only the one seen in this exhibition was made with “open flash fill.”

This deceptively simple portrait is one of Evans’ best-known and most powerful works. Much of that renown is due to his cool rendering and the distance he maintained in order to make a dispassionate, yet universal, record. These are the elements that set Evans’ work apart. John Hill’s new prints reinforce those elements.

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: Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer’s Wife (Allie Mae Burroughs) (1936)


Anonymous said...

Great Exhibit!!
A must see for any interested at all in photograghy.

DDanD said...

These enlarged images are breath-taking and will remain with me a long time. The huge double-print of the street-life scene is just remarkable.
Thank you for bringing the show to FAM.

Michelle Murdock said...

Dear Anonymous and DDanD,
Thanks for the compliments! It has been a pleasure to bring this great collection to Cooperstown. We're glad you enjoyed the show!
-Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions

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