Tag Archives: Americana

‘American Photographs’ by Walker Evans

Like the work of most great artists, the best of Walker Evans’ pictures are marvels of contradiction. Or, rather, they acquire their power through the contradictions they deftly reconcile. One especially striking example: a photograph from 1930 (slide 11 in this gallery) comprised of elements so incongruous that, taken together, they really should not bear scrutiny for more than a few moments before the viewer, shrugging indifferently, moves on.

But through Evans’ uncanny visual alchemy, that particular photograph’s disparate graphic elements—family photos; a half-hidden American flag; dried flowers; a truly hideous plant growing with almost unseemly vitality from a battered wooden bucket—appear not only to belong together, but to need one another in order to make sense.

MOMA

Cover

As seemingly chaotic and even unappealing as the image might feel at first glance, those wildly variant aspects of the photo—the flag, the plant, the faces—somehow cohere into something far more than the sum of their parts. Despite its initially jarring message, “Interior Detail of Portuguese House” does not, in fact, spurn scrutiny—it commands, and rewards, scrutiny. And what’s more amazing is that, after a time, the photograph appears to be gazing back. It is the viewer, and not the picture, that is the subject of an unblinking inquiry—and it’s unsettling.

But if Evans’ pictures are evidence of a rare facility for both creating and resolving contradictions, his career might be seen as his masterpiece. A fierce, determined artist, Walker Evans was for decades on staff at Time Inc.—a salaried editor at, of all places, Fortune magazine from the 1940s until the mid-1960s. That the man behind one of the seminal photographic efforts of the 20th century—the 1938 masterwork, American Photographs—went to the office each day, like any other nine-to-fiver, might astonish those photography buffs who have always, understandably, imagined Evans as nothing if not an irresistible creative force.

And yet, here again, Evans’ intrinsic contradictions—managed as Rodin might handle a lump of clay, or Koufax a curveball—are ultimately resolved in the photographs, singly and collectively, that he produced. He is both iconoclast and working stiff; company man and virtuoso.

This year marks the 75th anniversary edition of American Photographs, reissued by the Museum of Modern Art in an edition that recaptures, for the first time since its original release, what might be called the book’s radical purity. (The book itself, as a physical object, is a pleasure to hold; the duotone plates are gorgeous and crisp, and the size of this edition—an at-once solid and easily handled 7.75″ x 8.75″ hardcover—does justice to the serious, unfussy, thrilling nature of the work inside.)

As in the first edition, Evans’ pictures in the MoMa release appear only on the right-hand side as one turns each page, the utterly blank page on the left—without even a caption to distract the eye—adjuring one to look, to really look, at each picture, one after the other. And as the pages (slowly, slowly) turn, Evans’ accomplishment grows more evident, more impressive, more engaging.

The standard line on Evans is that no one—with a camera or a paintbrush—had ever captured America in quite the clear-eyed, unsentimental, honest  way that he did. But that patently true declaration still fails to encompass the scale and the sustained excellence of his achievement. In American Photographs, in images made during the Great Depression in places as divergent as Pennsylvania, Alabama, New York City and Havana, Cuba, Evans did not hold a mirror up to his country and his time: no mirror ever made, after all, could so clearly reflect what he saw, and what he wanted others to see.

Instead, each and every one of Evans’ pictures provides a window—or an unadorned window frame—from which even the glass has been removed, and through which we witness a scene of such clarity and immediacy that our own contemporary surroundings, if only for a moment, seem somehow less freighted with history. Less grounded. Less real.

The details of a house in Maine (slide 17)—the surprisingly jaunty, seemingly tilted windows; the elegant shapes, graceful patterns and, above all, the textures that give the structure its personality—are not merely the handiwork of people who obviously cared about their hard work; the details of the house are reminders of, and tributes to, the enduring value of hard work and the attention to craft.

The stance, the clothing and the unreadable expression on the face of a lean, dapper citizen of Havana in 1932 (slide 9) are not merely separate elements of a snapshot: like the details of a portrait by an Old Master, they combine to suggest a time, a place and an attitude (defiant, dignified) that have survived the passing decades intact—even if, by now, the man himself must be long dead.

These pictures, and the other pictures in American Photographs, are intensely daring precisely because the man who made them worked so hard to hide—to efface—the effort that went into creating them. Each image stands on its own, while at the same time each picture references the photograph that comes before, and the photograph that follows. It is a straightforward book that stirs complex emotions. It is a treasure.

‘Walker Evans: American Photographs (Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Edition)’ is available through the Museum of Modern Art.

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.

Martin Parr: Picturing the American South

The High Museum of Art commissioned Martin Parr to document Atlanta as part of its Picturing the South project—a series of artist commissions that engage with the American South. Channeling his unparalleled ability to collate humor, wit, and curiosity into his heavily socio-cultural photographs, Parr captured the oddities and eccentricities of contemporary Americana.

British-born Parr, whose photography career spans over 30 years, is known for his provocative documentary style by using cultural criticism through an exaggerated and humorous light. His analysis of how we live is not simply satire, as Parr offers his audience an approach to seeing which acts not to denounce, but to highlight (both aesthetically and thematically) patterns between people, the things we consume and the milieus in which we live.

The outcome of the museum’s commission offers a vivid, comedic and touching perspective on the diversity that lies in Atlanta. Parr covers a large body of subject matter in his findings, which ranges from the high and low—juxtaposing images from a gallery opening to an oddly lengthy corn dog on a stick. Parr’s images offer insight which would only be found through the lens of a meticulous and curious outsider.

Beyond the exhibition at the High Museum of Art, Italian publisher Contrasto released a book, Up and Down Peachtree: Photographs of Atlantaand a documetary, Hot Spots: Martin Parr in the American South. The book, a meticulously edited and impeccably designed object in its own right, is printed without text beyond the book’s title and colophon—which, undeniably, is a testament to Parr’s talent for storytelling. The documentary is a 60-minute lens behind the lens where documentarian Neal Broffman followed Parr photographing around Atlanta. The documentary includes interviews with noted curators, writers, critics and photographers, and offers a look into at Parr’s real-life affable personality and interactions with his subjects. Below, Contrasto has given LightBox an exclusive clip on the documentary:

Martin Parr’s photographs are on view now through September 9, 2012, as part of Picturing the South: New Commissions from the High Museum of Art. Up and Down Peachtree and Hot Spots: Martin Parr in the American South are both available for purchase online.

LENSCRATCH EXHIBITION OPPORTUNITIES

LENSCRATCH is creating exposure opportunities for photographers with group on-line exhibitions. Photographers will be allowed ONE entry per exhibition and ALL photographs will be published. I firmly believe in having occasional unjurored opportunities that allow for community and conversation.
Submission Guidelines:
Image size: 72dpi at 1000px on the long side, save as a jpg.
Send name, title, location (where you captured the image), and link to your work (website or other)
Example:
Aline Smithson, The Red Rose, Los Angeles, CA (http://www.alinesmithson.com)
In the subject of your e-mail, type the name of the exhibition (example:AMERICANA) and e-mail to:
If your images are sized incorrectly or the submission is incomplete, they will not be posted.
Submission Categories and Due Dates:
Due Date: June 29th
AMERICANA Exhibition to run on July 4th.
All things American…
Image by Aline Smithson

Due Date: August 20th
YOUR HOME TOWN  Exhibition to run on August 27th.
Where you live or where you were born
image by Aline Smithson

Due Date: October 24th
MASKS and COSTUMES  Exhibition to run on October 31st.
Scarier the better!
Image by Aline Smithson
Due Date: November 15th
FAVORITE PETS and ANIMALS Exhibition to run on November 22nd (Thanksgiving)
To say thank you to that family member that seldom get recognized…feel free to send a few sentences about what makes them so special.
Check back for new opportunities….

Lenscratch Exhibition Opportunities

Father’s Day is coming….don’t forget to submit a photo of Dad!


LENSCRATCH is creating exposure opportunities for photographers with group on-line exhibitions. SEO Experts search engine marketing . Photographers will be allowed ONE entry per exhibition and ALL photographs will be published. I firmly believe in having occasional unjurored opportunities that allow for community and conversation.

Submission Guidelines:
Image size: 72dpi at 1000px on the long side, save as a jpg.
Send name, title, location (where you captured the image), and link to your work (website or other)
Example:
Aline Smithson, The Red Rose, Los Angeles, CA (http://www.alinesmithson.com)
In the subject of your e-mail, type the name of the exhibition (example:FATHER) and e-mail to:
If your images are sized incorrectly or the submission is incomplete, they will not be posted.
Submission Categories and Due Dates:
Image by Aline Smithson
Due Date: June 10th
FATHER Exhibition to run on Father’s Day, June 17th.
Photographs can be old family photos-all interpretations open…use this to create a wonderful Father’s Day tribute! Feel free to add up to 3 sentences about your father, grandfather or whoever you are showcasing.
Image by Aline Smithson
Due Date: June 29th
AMERICANA Exhibition to run on July 4th.
All things American…
Check back for new opportunities….

LENSCRATCH Exhibition Opportunities

LENSCRATCH is creating exposure opportunities for photographers with group on-line exhibitions. Directory submission . Photographers will be allowed ONE entry per exhibition and ALL photographs will be published. I firmly believe in having occasional unjurored opportunities that allow for community and conversation.

Submission Guidelines:
Image size: 72dpi at 1000px on the long side, save as a jpg.

Send name, title, location (where you captured the image), and link to your work (website or other)

Example:
Aline Smithson, The Red Rose, Los Angeles, CA (http://www.alinesmithson.com)

In the subject of your e-mail, type the name of the exhibition (example:FATHER) and e-mail to:
[email protected]

If your images are sized incorrectly or the submission is incomplete, they will not be posted.

Submission Categories and Due Dates:

Image by Aline Smithson

Due Date: June 10th
FATHER Exhibition to run on Father’s Day, June 17th.
Photographs can be old family photos-all interpretations open…use this to create a wonderful Father’s Day tribute! Feel free to add up to 3 sentences about your father, grandfather or whoever you are showcasing.

Image by Aline Smithson

Due Date: June 29th
AMERICANA Exhibition to run on July 4th.
All things American…

Check back for new opportunities….

Jean Laughton

I love all photographs about the west.  My father was a cowboy and though I never lived in Arizona, my heart is on the range.  There are lots of photographers making work about cowboy culture and the American West, but none are as authentic as Jean Laughton who lives it on a daily basis.  In fact, it took Jean awhile to send me images as she was busy with calving season.  Her commitment to her work is evidenced in this image:
Riding Drag on the Brunsch Ranch
Jean grew up in rural Iowa and spent a lot of time on her grandmother’s farm. She moved to New York City and began taking photographs.  In 1997, she had an overwhelming urge to venture across the country in search of disappearing Americana.  She met cowboys and country western legends and fell in love with all things western.  
After several more trips over the years, Jean eventually bought property, cattle, and a whole new way of life in South Dakota. She has since learned to cowboy from scratch and has been
ranching on Lyle O’Bryan’s Quarter Circle XL Ranch near Belvidere, South Dakota
while documenting her My Ranching Life series from horseback. Jean now manages
the ranch – riding and working alongside old time cowboy and mentor, Lyle O’Bryan
(age 78) while continuing to document the intersection of her life with the
past.
The two consistent things in her life have been her love of photography and the glorious West. Jean write a blog about her adventures on the range, My Ranching Life.
I am featuring work from two series, Go West and My Ranching Life.
 Go West

I grew up in rural Iowa near the South Dakota border, on
the edge of the West. When I began this series I was living in New York City. I
was longing to GO WEST, back home and beyond, to photograph the people of a
region that so captivated me – to escape back to reality and wide-open spaces –
and travel across the vastness of the West on a journey that became not only a
photographic one but also one of personal discovery – finding links between
photo subjects and past family members, making friends with old bronc riders
from my great grandmother’s days – mingling with the past while documenting the
present as I looked to the future and the reinvention of my life.


I didn’t watch many Westerns but the fabricated reality of a scene from
John Ford’s ‘’My Darling Clementine” and so many from silent movies lit a
spark. I wanted to head West and document real people in their western
‘costumes’ of sort. Pull them out of their current reality into a constructed
one. So I left my then home of New York City, starting in 1995, for several
summers and meandered about the West in my Bronco loaded with backdrops and my
beat up $75 4×5 camera – stopping at selected rodeos and events. To me, this
was like walking onto a movie studio back lot with characters straight out of
Central Casting – but with the twist of naturally occurring authenticity. This
was the beginning of several years of experiences that would eventually lead me
to my current ten-year ranching adventure. What started as photographing the
myth with this series lead to me actually inhabiting it with my current series
MY RANCHING LIFE – stepping into a real life version of the backdrop scene and
going beyond the role of spectator.

The
GO WEST summers alone on the road were some of the best times – driving
throughout the cinematic landscape of the West as an outsider with no ties,
with a feeling of awe – watching a continuous ever changing ‘drive-in movie’ of
the West through my windshield. They were such days of discovery for me. And
the first time I actually stopped someone to ask to take their portrait.
Watching me set up my backdrop in the wind behind the scenes of rodeos and go
through the process of photographing each person with the 4×5 while talking at
top speed was probably just as entertaining as the rodeo itself and I liken it
to some sort of Buster Keaton silent movie scene from The Cameraman.  I mostly did one shot of the people I met in
Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.

When I asked each person to step in front of my backdrop, it transformed into a miniature movie set and they became the leading actor from the countless legends of the true and imagined West of the past. Their look, stance or clothing evoked many a character from many a movie scene and made me aware of movie characters based on real life and real life based on movie characters and the blur between the two. I shot most of the B&W images from this series with the beloved Type 55 Polaroid film – which allowed for a endless array of accidental blemishes and ‘instant’ timelessness.

What started my thousands of miles driving throughout the West was a
personal photography project that eventually morphed into me searching for
something. As with many from the past, I headed West to transform my life –
moving to the tiny Last Picture Show back
lot of a movie set Badlands town of Interior, South Dakota and stepping into my
current cowboying role.

I have GONE WEST.

  
My Ranching Life
I have always used my photography as a tool for attempting
time travel. And working on the Quarter Circle XL Ranch is a bit like stepping
back in time onto a Western movie backlot. The ranch was once home to Earl
Thode – first world champion bronc rider of 1929 and his family. It is quite a
thrill riding across the same land and the same White River as the cowboys from
the past. I feel as if I have stepped ‘inside the photograph’ – riding my Pony
around and photographing in a diorama of the West somewhere between the past and present – between reality and fantasy.

The area of ranches south of Belvidere, South Dakota is rich
with western heritage – with all cattle work done on horseback. Creating quite
the historical visual against the backdrop of the land and cyclorama sky. I
photograph these scenes from horseback, while cowboying, with a Noblex 120
swing lens panoramic camera I carry in my saddlebags. The Noblex gives me a
medium format negative suitable for large-scale printing. The panoramic format
lends a cinematic quality while also conveying the vastness of the landscape.
And the black & white film helps reverse time. My horse’s ears
intentionally appear in some of the photographs – announcing my presence as
part of the crew.

These photographs are a visual diary of what appear to be
‘film stills’ of some of the many scenarios I have been a part of while
learning to cowboy and eventually taking over managing the Quarter Circle XL
Ranch. I have had the pleasure of working alongside a crew of rugged
hardworking cowboys on the ten area ranches we ‘neighbor’ with. This allows me
to learn a lot, cover many miles of pasture on horseback and document within a
variety of landscapes. Offering an insider’s perspective of the beauty and
timelessness of present day family ranching. With photographs that, at first glance,
could have been taken during another era – depicting a profession that has
changed little over the past century. The land, as backdrop, has a permanence
all its own but the cast of characters are bound to change. I am proud to be a
part of it all.

I continue to ranch and photograph and am ever grateful to
Lyle O’Bryan for being my cowboy mentor. These are the years of my life I will
never forget. It has been quite the adventure so far.

Exclusive: Behind the Kraszna-Krausz Photography Book Awards

On Thursday night, the book Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs by Weston Naef and Christine Hult-Lewis, from Getty Publications, was named the winner of the 2012 Kraszna-Krausz Best Photography Book Award at the Sony Photo Awards in London. The book presents more than 1,000 photographs by Watkins, a 19th-century landscape photographer of the American West, along with essays and research. Jem Southam, a British photographer and a professor at the School of Art and Media at Plymouth University, sat on the judging panel; he spoke exclusively to LightBox about the process of judging photography books.

Getty Publications

Carleton Watkins: The Complete Mammoth Photographs, Weston Naef and Christine Hult-Lewis

Southam says that when the panel met together to narrow the list of books down to five, and then to one, after spending weeks on their own with the nearly 200 contest submissions, the process—meant to take two hours—took five. “Each book that we shortlisted, each of us could have happily stood by it as a winner, and each was an utterly different kind of project,” he says. But the Kraszna-Krausz award has a very specific criterion for recipients, that they make a significant contribution to scholarship in the field, and with that standard in mind the Watkins book stood apart from the rest.

“One of the things that this book has done is bring an immense amount of labor to create a catalogue raisonné the likes of which, for a 19th-century photographer, I’ve never seen,” says Southam. He says that many of the judges were of a generation for which the 1975 New Topographics exhibit at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., was an important event, and—at least for European photographic scholars—the first time they were introduced to landscape photographers from Watkins’ era, a category that Southam says is still under-examined. This book, Southam says, will be the resource to which future generations of scholars turn when they are writing essays about Watkins and his compatriots—and, as such, the book fulfills the prize’s mission.

The book also accomplishes a scholarly task by showing Watkins’ work in great volume. “He was solving photographic problems for the first time,” says Southam of Watkins’ work from the Yosemite Valley, in which the photographer confronted a landscape that had never before been photographed. “You develop an understanding [with a book] of the photographer’s process that wouldn’t be possible with one print.”

Nevertheless, Southam cautions any photographer against making a book that is intended to do well in competitions. “I’m not very keen on judging. Books aren’t made to be judged,” he says. But it helps when a book is as much of a stand-out as the one in question this time around. “One of the things that one’s looking for is an object that’s captivating as an object, that has presence, that the hands and the body and the mind get a pleasure from the holding and the turning and the looking at, that the whole has an integrity that comes from the vision of the author. This book, every page you turn to is as engrossing as the next.”

The Sony World Photography Awards Exhibitions and World Photo London takes place April 27 – May 20. An exhibition of the winning and shortlisted books from the Kraszna-Krausz book awards 2012 is at Somerset House, London, during that time. More information is available here.

Beauty and Wisdom: current photos of American women from another era

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Mrs. limousines . Milner, from the series Beauty and Wisdom, Robbie Kaye

Beauty and Wisdom documents a fast disappearing aspect of American culture (Americana) as well as a diminishing population of women who are part of a generation that is often overlooked. More important than their weekly ritual of going to the ‘beauty parlor’ is the fact that these women are extremely vibrant, wise and humorousand committed to maintaining their life-long ritual for rejuvenation and connection.

As baby boomers age, the rituals of their mothers and grandmothers will fade and become obsolete. Beauty and Wisdom documents a generation of women, aged 70 and over, who have been going regularly to the beauty parlor once a week not as a luxury, but as a necessity, for most of their adult years. This project explores the grace and courage in which these women age in a society so heavily focused on the beauty of youth. Ironically, these are the women who opened doors for future generations of women to walk through, yet they are now part of an invisible generation.

See and read more in Lens Culture.