Unreal Nature

June 3, 2015

The Photo As

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

” … photography is editing … “

This is from Walker Evans: the magazine work by David Campany (2014):

… Despite his long working life most of the photographs upon which Evans‘ reputation still rests were made in 1935 and 1936, in the American south. It was an intensively creative period in which, well paid and well resourced for the first time in his life, he focused on the making of pictures that were formally ambitious and layered in meaning. His output was prodigious. [ … ] After the 1930s he did reach those pictorial heights again but he never surpassed them. This is not uncommon among even the greatest photographers. Many achieve their best work early. Either they try to sustain it, which often proves difficult, or they leave for something else.

[ … before photography … ]

… In 1926 the ambition to write took Evans to Paris, the trip funded by his father, a successful writer of advertising copy. Walker stayed just over a year, taking classes at the Sorbonne and frequenting Shakespeare & Co., the bookshop at the centre of the avant-garde literary scene. He saw Joyce but was too awed to approach. He read avidly in English and French, classical and modern authors. Flaubert, Baudelaire, Proust and many others. He had a vest-pocket camera but was not yet serious about photography. Returning to Manhattan in 1927 he worked in a bookstore on 57th Street, assuring further access to printed matter. By 1928 his interest in photography was growing.

… The literary ambition weighed heavily. Years later Evans recalled: “I wanted so much to write that I couldn’t write a word.” He preserved just a few of his short prose pieces and continued to photograph.

[ … ]

… In the fall of 1931 Hound & Horn offered Evans the opportunity to review a clutch of new photographic books, mainly European. He produced ‘The Reappearance of Photography,’ an essay weaving the reviews into a definitive statement about the medium that was also a declaration of intent.

Evans ended ‘The Reappearance of Photography’ with a paragraph on Antlitz Der Zeit (Face of the Time, 1929) August Sander’s book of sixty portraits from his huge survey of the German people. These “type studies” were “one of the futures foretold by Atget … a photographic editing of society, a clinical process.” Evans was realizing how vital editing was to modern photography. As Sander himself later declared: “A successful photo is only a preliminary step toward the intelligent use of photography … Photography is like a mosaic that becomes a synthesis only when it is presented en masse.” Evans also came to realize that “the essence is done very quickly with a flash of the mind, and with a machine. I think [ … ] that photography is editing, editing after the taking. After knowing what to take you have to do the editing.”

‘The Reappearance of Photography’ was prescient. Evans had grasped the tensions between the photo as artwork and document, between the single image and the orchestrated sequence, between politics and subjective expression, and between image and language.

-Julie

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