In: Art history

Walker Evans – James R. Mellow
May 19, 2022

Walker Evans
James R. Mellow
Basic Books; Revised ed. edition (Oct. 11 2001)

Walker Evans is one of the most famous American documentary photographers of the past 100 years and his images will stand for another hundred at least. While every serious photographer is familiar with his work (the best known of which was shot during the 1930’s for the U.S. Farm Security Administration as per the examples below), there have been relatively few books that discuss Evans as a man. James R. Mellow captures his complexities in this eminently readable biography, published in 2001.

What makes particularly interesting reading is Evan’s evolution as an artist, from failed student in the Mid-West US, to failed writer in Paris, to acclaimed photographer on his return to New York in the late 20’s and early 30’s. The book quotes extensively from his letters and other writings. One can almost hear him speaking… I imagine his voice to be a low pitched, slow drawl; a mix of Henry Fonda, Peter Coyote and Alan Rickman (minus the accent).

Evans comes across as dour and fatalistic, yet strangely still likeable. Much of his writing describes his unhappiness with things as they are, whether it be his annoyance with his mother, his dissatisfaction with the quality of the prints made from his negatives or his despondence about his romantic relationships. Many of his friendships with other famous artists are discussed, including Ben Shahn, Steven Crane and Hanns Skolle.

The book offers details about the trips Evans made to do his photography and specifically the trips he made with author James Agee as they worked on the seminal Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Evans plays the role of aesthete opposite Agee’s sensualist, the collision of which resulted in a book acclaimed for its intimacy and realism… a strong documentary account of the lives of sharecroppers and their families in the American South during the Great Depression.

It is sad but somehow inevitable that Evans ends his days as somewhat of an alcoholic / academic recluse. Mellow’s reliance on Evans’ own words leave you feeling as if you really knew him, that you cared about him, but weren’t overly close to the actual man behind the photographs, because of his determination to keep people at bay.

Walker Evans by James R. Mellow is available from numerous online retailers.

~ Mark Walton

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Kary Janousek – Connecting to History
March 11, 2022

Kary Janousek Connecting to History Wind - Kary Janousek Kary Janousek is a prairie transplant. She found herself living in Fargo,... Read More
Temptation of Saint Anthony | Hieronymus Bosch
January 18, 2022

High culture has pretty much disappeared along with the dress code.

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Why Black and White Still Matters – An Essay
December 6, 2021

High culture has pretty much disappeared along with the dress code.

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Saul Leiter Early Color
May 19, 2021

Saul Leiter
Steidl
Currently Out of Print, copies available on Amazon or at specialty bookstores.

Saul Leiter – Early Color is a must have for the library of any street photographer who shoots in color. Leiter’s work is not as confrontational as that of Robert Frank and seeks to find moments of the sublime in every day life and scenes. Shooting with expired and “artisanal” films in the 1950’s gave Leiter a palette unmatched by others, making Early Color breathtaking in it’s ability to capture one with a block of red and yellow on a taxi, or to draw you in to the lives of those sitting behind a window in a New York café.

Originally a rabbinical student (Leiter’s father was an important Talmud scholar), Leiter rebelled against his parent’s hopes for him and started shooting black and white fashion photography in New York. He embraced color before many of his contemporaries.

~ Mark Walton

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A Closer Look : Reading a Photograph
October 28, 2020

An independent commentary on photography by Peppa Martin.

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Fade to Black
May 11, 2020

High culture has pretty much disappeared along with the dress code.

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