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 The primarily previously unpublished short stories, poems, criticism--mostly of photography--translations of French literature by the likes of Baudelaire, Cocteau, and Gide, and personal letters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
From Library Journal
Walker Evans, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's catalog to its current major retrospective, is a rock-solid work providing biographical, historical, and visual accounts of the artist's life and work. Hambourg, an assistant curator in the museum's Department of Photography, edited this big book with the straightforward approach that Evans employed in his art. Careful reproduction of well-known black-and-white and little-known color photographs by Evans forms the heart of the volume. There are quality essays here as well, biographical and analytical writing that effectively places Evans's visual efforts in social and territorial context. From the self-portrait on the cover to the notebook entries to the many photographs clustered along the way, Unclassified: A Walker Evans Anthology quickly broadens the popular view of the photographer as a chronicler of 1930s America with black-and-white film in his camera. Gathered from many files in the large and varied Evans Archive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, these collected writings, photos, and ephemera give us a socially concerned writer, artist, and meticulous keeper of his life's work along with his opinions and his collections of postcards. This version of Evans shakes him free of any narrow channel in which we placed him. He led a robust life, and the stillness that comes from his Depression-era work is shaken up by this energized look at the photographer. Walker Evans pointed a camera at his world and let the documentary result speak as his art. Chief curator in the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Photography, Galassi has taken that objective eye as his theme. Gathering over 300 works from several media by 100 artists, Galassi gives us a volume of reportorial art, showing people, places, and things in "as is" condition. Evans touched people with his photographs because he merged his images with their "real lives." The question of whether other artists using other means were influenced by Evans's work or simply liberated to offer a visual vernacular landscape is incidental here. Galassi's book succeeds because his choices match his theme so well and play off the many examples of Evans's work that unite these pages. Though the Metropolitan catalog is the first choice for purchase, all three books are well recommended for all types of libraries and essential for serious art collections.DDavid Bryant, New Canaan Lib., CT
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