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Monday, 13 August 2012

Walker Evans: Advertising

Image, Source: digital file from original neg.

Minstrel poster in Alabama town: photo by Walker Evans, January 1936

The messages muted, speech
without voice.
The poverty of the time, inscribed
on windows, wall
posters, signs
of the permanently cheated.

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Minstrel poster, Alabama: photo by Walker Evans, August 1936

Image, Source: digital file from original neg.

Posters covering a building near Lynchburg, Tennessee to advertise a Downie Bros. circus: photo by Walker Evans, 1936

Image, Source: digital file from original neg.

Posters covering a building near Lynchburg, Tennessee to advertise a Downie Bros. circus: photo by Walker Evans, 1936

Image, Source: digital file from original neg.

Posters covering a building near Lynchburg, Tennessee to advertise a Downie Bros. circus: photo by Walker Evans, 1936

Image, Source: intermediary roll film

Movie theatre on Saint Charles Street. Liberty Theatre, New Orleans: photo by Walker Evans, 1935 or 1936

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Movie poster, vicinity of Moundsville, Alabama: photo by Walker Evans, March 1940

Image, Source: digital file from original neg.

Auto parts shop. Atlanta, Georgia: photo by Walker Evans, December 1935

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Excursion sign, Alabama: photo by Walker Evans, 1936

Image, Source: b&w film copy neg. of print

Sign on building advertising groceries and meats, Winston-Salem, North Carolina: photo by Walker Evans, 1935

Image, Source: digital file from T01 duplicate negative

Alabama feed store front: photo by Walker Evans, March 1936

Image, Source: digital file from duplicate neg.

Roadside stand near Birmingham Alabama: photo by Walker Evans, March 1936

Photos from Farm Security Administration Collection, Library of Congress


TC said...

The use of signs and texts to lend a self-labeling quality to his quiet, restrained formal compositions is one of the qualities that allows us to see Walker Evans as an American classicist.

He was notoriously a purist in photgraphy, exchewing (most notably) flashbulbs and colour.

That little interest nowadays attends Walker's work is not too surprising, as every Booby Bozo on the street can make a picture of himself, provided his arms are long enough. Who needs classical composition when your own face is the center of all your pictures.

The photos here were taken by Evans for the U.S. Resettlement Administration, later to be re-named Farm Security Administration. Evans worked there from 1935 to 1938, off and on.

Later he went on to become a sort of editor-at-large with Fortune magazine.

Here is one of his striking photo-essays for that publication:

Pan in the Weeds

Wooden Boy said...

I'm not sure people know how to look at all. There are photographers out there; we're just drowning in that see of idiot faces and can't draw them out.

That other reading called for: "The poverty of the time/ inscribed". Where are the critical responses to such signs. We've become illiterate at the very moment the writing's on the wall.

TC said...

My sense of the thing is that photography has largely devolved into something along the lines of facebook and twitter, that is, an instrumental means to increasing the world's consciousness of one's existence; a contribution to one's own fame, a stock in which no one can ever hold too many shares (even as the quantitative proliferation of such images defeats this very purpose, each image drowning in the seemingly infinite sea of images -- can anyone ever actually look at them all?).

There's a high end gourmet restaurant in this neighborhood to which wallets fat with plastic are attracted from all round the world. The quality is said to be variable, the portions small, but the cachet of such glam dining is tremendous. So one sees these little gaggles of tourists gathered round the outer gates, as if an apparition of celebrity were anticipated. But no, it's merely the tourists taking pictures of themselves and each other, in front of the famous gates. In a world quantified as a multiplicity of monads, the greatest celebrity is always the One(self).

Susan Kay Anderson said...

I love this poem, the crushing end--or is it the end?

This poem is Richard Brautigan throwing rocks at the police station in Eugene as a teenager...

"signs dreams of the permanently cheated."

Nobody has said it better that this. I cannot breathe reading these anguished words. They clobber. A deadly poem. Too true.

I miss the people who read these signs. Are they really gone? Am I one of them?

TC said...

Susan, the frogs sing hymns to you, ergo you must be [t]here. This must be a sign. Those frogs are not dummies.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Fish, watermelon
what more is there
to life?

The fish has a frown
mouth turned down.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

The coquis sing to anyone and everyone, well mostly themselves and each other--their piercing little cries drown out the washing machine surf. They are new arrivals and miss their true homes--Puerto Rico.

larry white said...

If it's not too ironic to insert this last-page quote from your blue-ribbon collaboration with and about Robert Creeley, Tom:
"One had the company."

It's a great book, btw. I saw Creeley read (with Duncan and Levertov, I think) at the 92nd St. Y in the early '60s, and again in the '80s at St. Mark's (introduced by Ed Sanders). I'd courted my wife-to-be with his books in the '60s but lost touch with his work after my wife died in 1970. Your book is a great re-introduction to his work by way of his maturing over the next several decades into a master poet (despite my initial misgivings over what seemed some antiquated hipster mannerisms). Bless you for what you have done for "what matters" with some great adventurers in life and literature.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

One has to wonder at Lincoln Market's sideboard advertising--how often did prices fluctuate and how were these changes incorporated into the sign? Any way you look at it, an American original.

ACravan said...

Among the various items in this post, the photographs are, as they should be, I think, the star, but so also are your comments about Evans and the current largely de-evolved state of photography as it pertains to Facebook and Twitter. Examined through the lens of self-photography or the phenomenon of people constantly changing their Facebook "profile" portraits, Facebook becomes more annoying and, in some ways, alarming, than ever. I know a woman who recently moved to northern California who thinks that the only thing that makes her worthwhile is the fact that she's extremely pretty. She's a lovely person and mistaken about that, of course. I would say that she updates her portrait daily. It's the most neurotic, lonely and unsociable thing I've ever seen. In the words of the (now) late Helen Gurley Brown, when describing her requirements for articles appearing in Cosmopolitan, these portraits have no "me and you" about them; they "do not sit down and visit." Ms. Brown's editorial instructions were related to me, by the way, by a former Cosmo employee who is my daughter's godmother. When Joanna graduated college, her first job was as an assistant there, and her duties included acting as the magazine's poetry editor (who knew?) and writing the Letters to the Editor section (both the "letters" and the responses). Like Walker Evans, I guess Ms. Brown had artistic vision. Curtis

Ed Baker said...

seems to me that
nowadays (the majority of) people
,particularly in this American Kulchur,
lost sight of what is really valuable on a
personal level
& instead look to what publicly brings (instant)
Just maybe we need to step-back
open mind-heart & eye to appreciate ordinary
beauty & stop our "love affair" with the high achieving,
the polished (slick), and the famous?

when looking at moon / open eyes

TC said...

Pleased that people are interested. Here's a bit more Evans:

Walker Evans: Patterns of Habitation / Edward Dorn: The Top List

I'm always grateful to see something in the world for the first time, or as if for the first time. These world things might be right here in this moment or they might have happened or existed seventy-five years ago and thousands of miles away. But how is it far if you can see it, now, at least this once.

TC said...

In a recent New York Times series called "The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock" -- which is in good part a rather trivial debunking of the impression of verity in the work of the early FSA photographers -- Errol Morris quotes William Stott, a historian of the FSA photography project. Stott met Evans while a grad student and teacher at Yale.

He insists the enigmatic Evans never abandoned his curious personal devotion to the ineffable fact of the real, in its particular human structures -- "the made world".

"His vision [was] of the untampered beauty of the made world, not the natural world, but the made world — he always said that he enjoyed living in nature, but nature bored him as a subject. But what man did, what man had fashioned fascinated him. You also have something that nobody has connected Evans with — the whole Purist aesthetic in American art. Ralston Crawford who paints the Whitestone Bridge in the late forties. And you have Charles Sheeler. The world is beautiful; you don’t manipulate it to find the beauty.

"One thing that Evans is famous for saying is what matters in photography isn’t the camera, it’s your eye. It’s seeing what’s beautiful. And he himself really didn’t have all that much interest in photography at the end of his life. He was collecting things. He just liked collecting junk... You went into his house and saw he’d have to push the junk aside on his bed to lie down and go to sleep at night. He said it was a kind of sickness with him. He much preferred the handmade stuff. But he believed that even machine-made clutter, if you kept it around for a long time, became beautiful, too. And it may simply have been the day I happened to be with him on the beach. He would pick up flotsam and jetsam from the beach. And one of the things that we brought home was a fireman’s glove, or some kind of very specialized plastic glove, that would be used for handling dangerous or hot material. It had washed up on the shore. And it was a hideous orange. He was always in favor of waiting 30 years with photographs. He said after 30 years, you will know what you have. And maybe his feeling was, if you held that for 30 years, you’d have something that was beautiful, too.

"You wanted to have something that seemed to have a patina of history about it. What was so shocking about that Dayglo orange glove that Walker picked up was that it just screamed of artificiality. God almighty, why would Walker Evans pick that up? Well, let me tell you another little anecdote. He came down and he stayed with my wife and me for a couple of days. And then we put him in a hotel that was right by campus. I was walking around with him a lot. He was very old by this time, because he’d had half of his stomach taken out, very stiff, had trouble bending down. There was at this time a movie theater that gave out brightly colored paper tickets. There were some stubs on the ground. And I could see he was stopping to decide which he would pick up. And I, being in my thirties and spry, went over and picked up one and came to hand it to him. And he had stooped and picked up another. And he said to me, “You don’t get the right one, do you?” When I packed up his things for him to go back, he had squashed beer cans that had nicely eroded. They were not the current, very thin aluminum cans. They had a patina of history on them. It was just an appetite for actuality that he really had. He just thought these things were lovely. He didn’t care that anybody else thought they were."



. . . time, inscribed
on windows, wall
posters, signs
dreams . . .


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
plane of ridge, red-tailed hawk calling
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

to be understood, described
in order for the word

which is that, dreamed into
existence, other hand

grey white of fog against top of point,
whiteness of gull on tip of GROIN sign