Walker Evans: Rich in spirit

In my last post, I briefly mentioned Walker Evans.  I would guess that most of you are familiar with his work, especially his iconic photos taken in rural America during the depression years of the 1930’s.

Lucille Burroughts, Daughter of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama, 1936      Walker Evans

Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama 1936      Walker Evans

San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art has a major retrospective of his work until February 4, 2018.  I found the show enlightening, for the extensive collection of images,  documents and ephemera highlighted various interests in Walker’s life.  It was organized around themes such as City Series, Window Gazing, The Charm of Main Street, Ordinary Folk, Three Alabama Families.

The entrance to the show was marked by a giant reproduction of a self-portrait from 1927.  It makes me smile;  it’s a joyous selfie.

Self-portrait, 1927 Walker Evans

I was particularly entranced by his photographs of tools in the Utilitarian Elegance section.  (Yes, tools.)  The images were beautiful.  They seemed to be simple (an everyday tool) and yet, complex in the detailed description of the utensil.  They conveyed a respect for the object, (the design and the utility), as well as the manufacturer/creator.

Tin Snips by J Wiss and Sons, Co., $1.85 Walker Evans

Bricklayer’s Pointing Trowel, by Marshaltown Trowel Co., $1.35 1955 Walker Evans

At the end of the exhibition,  some of Walker Evans’ comments on art exhibitions, published in the Boston Globe in 1971, were highlighted.

A good art exhibition is a lesson in seeing to those who need or want one, and a session of visual pleasure and excitement to those who don’t need anything – I mean the rich in spirit.  Grunts, sighs, shouts, laughter, and imprecations ought to be heard in a museum room.
I suggest that true religious feeling is sometimes to be had, even at church, and perhaps art can be seen and felt on a museum wall; with luck.

All the serious photojournalism we associate with Walker Evans is only a part of his creative life.  SF MoMA  in association with the Centre Pompidou,  have created a retrospective  which adds to our understanding of Walker Evans, particularly his passions, his muses and his personality.  It seems he was rich in spirit.


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