Unclassified - A Walker Evans Anthology: Se

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9783908247210: Unclassified - A Walker Evans Anthology: Se

Edited by Jeff L. Rosenheim. Essays by Jeff L Rosenheim and Douglas Eklund. Introduction by Maria Morris Hambourg.

This book, published on the occasion of the artist's first retrospective exhibition in three decades, presents a selection of mostly unpublished material from the Walker Evans Archive, the vast collection of negatives and papers acquired in 1994 from the artist's estate by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Evans left to posterity an amazingly rich record of his creative process and inner life. From his earliest boyhood snapshots to the seldom-seen color Polaroids made in the year before his death, Unclassified - A Walker Evans Anthology traces the development of this American master through previously unpublished writings (fiction, diaries, essays, and criticism); his fascinating and copious early correspondence with the German artist, Hanns Skolle (Evan's best friend at the time); and revealing letters from Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, and Diane Arbus. Previously-unknown photographs from the Metropolitan's collection of 40,000 negatives and transparencies reveal the artist at work. The anthology concludes with telling selections from Evan's seminal collection of vernacular imagery: roadside signs, picture postcards, printed ephemera, and a shockingly prescient album of newspaper clippings from the 20s and 30s that prefigures Andy Warhol and Pop and Conceptual Art by three decades.

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Review:

Walker Evans, one of the 20th century's most important photographers, was also a talented and prolific writer. Unclassified: A Walker Evans Anthology collects much of the writing that Evans authored in his lifetime and bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art upon his death. The primarily previously unpublished short stories, poems, criticism--mostly of photography--translations of French literature by the likes of Baudelaire, Cocteau, and Gide, and personal letters offer insight into Evans's aesthetic, cultural, and artistic concerns. Readers learn that Evans admired the objective, journalistic quality of August Sander's portraits of German workers and Eugène Atget's poetic interpretations of Paris, but he held deep disdain for the photos of both Alfred Stieglitz (too "arty") and Edward Steichen (too commercial). What is also evident in these pages is Evans's active interest in the way in which American culture pictures itself. He assiduously collected family photographs taken by his mother, sister, and countless anonymous penny photographers along with picture postcards and snapshots clipped from magazines and newspapers. There are rather personal and emotionally telling writings here, too, including his long-term correspondence with his close friend, the artist Hanns Skolle, in which Evans often describes the details of his daily life along with the larger issues that possessed his thoughts at any given time. A somewhat strange list dated December 26, 1937, is a document of things for which he professed to hold contempt, including "gourmets," "writers," "readers of the New Yorker," and "whatever is meant by the American Spirit."

There are very few photographs in this book, but its visually focused designers include facsimile copies of many of Evans's typed and handwritten papers, which lend it an archeological quality most Evans fans will enjoy. This deeply satisfying anthology includes a sampling from its subject's vast negative archive (around 30,000 frames), replete with his handwritten negative sleeve notes. And, read in concert with a viewing of his photographs (this writer recommends the catalog to the 2000 traveling retrospective), the book offers as complete a view of the master photographer's work and ideas as any Evans admirer could possibly hope for. --Jordana Moskowitz

About the Author:

Walker Evans (1903-1975) was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After intermittent literature studies (Williams College, the Sorbonne) and various jobs, he returned to New York where he worked as a clerk for a stockbroker firm for two years. He took his first photographs in 1928. Beginning in 1935, he photographed the Southern States, both while working for the Resettlement Administration and as a commission from Fortune. "Walker Evans: American Photographs" was the Museum of Modern Art's first exhibition devoted to a single photographer, and also in 1938, he took his first New York subway photographs. His book of Southern sharecropper families, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, was first published in 1941, and Many Are Called, a collection of subway photographs, was published in 1966. He died in 1975, four years after the last major retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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