Tag Archives: Walker Evans

2012: A Year of Deja Vu

In an age that, in many respects, is defined by photography, with millions upon millions of pictures being made every single day, it’s close to impossible for a photographer to produce a wholly original image. Someonesomewherehas no doubt shot a similar photo from a similar angle in a similar way. Avoiding photographic clichs in such an environment, when everything is a clich, becomes more and more difficult by the minute.

Then there are those times when the similarities between two (or more) images can be simply and even thrillingly uncanny.

Sometimes these similarities are purely coincidental; but occasionally, photographers purposefully return to a past subject and location to take a similarly composed photograph.

In 2011, Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder flew to Japan to record the devastating effects of the previous December’s tsunami and earthquake. One year later, he returned to the exact same spots as his previous photographs to show the progress made during recovery. Fellow Associated Press shooter Steve Rauke has photographed the dignified transfers of numerous U.S. servicemen at Dover Air Force base since 2009, serving as a constant reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by our troops abroad.

Steve RuarkAP

Left: July 26, 2012.
A Marine carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Sgt. Justin M. Hansen at Dover Air Force Base, Del. According to the Department of Defense, Hansen, 26, of Traverse City, Mich., died July 24, 2012 while conducting combat operations in Badghis province, Afghanistan.
Right: July 30, 2012.
An Army carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Pfc. Jose Oscar Belmontes at Dover Air Force Base. According to the Department of Defense, Belmontes, 28, of La Verne, Calif., died July 28, 2012 in Wardak province, Afghanistan of wounds sustained from enemy small arms fire.

Photographer Camilo Jos Vergara has photographed the poorest and most segregated communities in urban Americaformore than four decades,using photography as a way to understand and appreciate the spirit of those places andrecord neighborhoods as they change (or don’t change) over time.

But photo-driven dj vu can take one by surprise, too. Blog Submission . Triggered by images’ composition or content, pictures of divergent subjects in similar images can often seem like far more than mere coincidence. Unlikely connections in disparate photos can nag at us, even when the images are made years or many miles apart. And, of course, photographers working in different countries or on separate continents can have no idea that they’ve made an image nearly identical to another taken somewhere over the horizon, or on the other side of the world.

David GuttenfelderAP

Left: March 28, 2011.
A ship washed away by the tsunami sits in a destroyed neighborhood in Kesennuma, northeastern Japan.
Right: Feb. 23, 2012.
One year later, the same ship remains.

Perhaps our contemporary, collective dj vu is trigged by the news cycle’s constant hunger for images. Photographers, after all, do sometimes document annual events at the same time and place, year after year as if nothing at all has ever changed, or ever will change, at that location.

Documentary photography, meanwhile, raises its own breed of dj vu. Photojournalists often travel together and work side by side at the same event, documenting the same momentseeing the same things, taking the same pictures. Even when working independently, photographers are not immune to conscious (or subconscious) mirroring, and the 20th century has provided a litany of mastersCartier-Bresson, Klein, Evans and Frank come to mindwho have influenced entire generations of image makers. After all, we all want to pay homage to our forebears and our heroes. Is it so surprising when, paying tribute, we veer into imitation?

Even the most celebrated of photographers are not immune to this sincerest form of flattery.

In the book published alongside the Yale show “Walker Evans and Robert Frank,” Tod Papageorge writes of the influence of Evans’ American Photographs on Frank’s The Americans.

“Many of the matched photographs reproduced here obviously, and remarkably, echo one another; they demonstrate that, to a significant degree, Frank used Evans’ work as an iconographical sourcebook for his own pictures.”

With this gallery, TIME embarks on an anthropological dig through our collective visual memory, unearthing images from the last twelve months that awakened in us that singular, familiar sense that we’ve seen them somewhere before. Haven’t we?

Homage to Paul Graham: A Present, Paris

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Homage to Paul Graham, A Present, Paris Jim Casper

8th Avenue and 42nd Street_16th July 2010_12-55-09pm-sm.jpg

Paul Graham, from The Present: 8th Avenue and 42nd Street, 16th July 2010, 12:55:09 pm. Fotografia . Courtesy Mack Books.

Street photography is perhaps the defining genre of photographic art. Seminal works by Walker Evans, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand display photographys astonishing dance with life, and its unique role in forming our perceptions of the modern world.

The Present is Paul Grahams contribution to this legacy. The images in [his latest] book come unbidden from the streets of New York, but are not quite what we might expect, for each moment is brought to us with its double two images taken from the same location, separated only by the briefest fraction of time. We find ourselves in sibling worlds, where a businessman with an eye patch becomes, an instant later, a man with an exaggerated wink; a man eating a banana walks towards us, and a small focus shift reveals the blind man right behind him.

Although there are flashes of surprise a woman walks confidently down the street one moment, only to tumble to the ground a second later for the most part there is little of the drama street photography is addicted to. People arrive and depart this quiet stage, with the smallest shift of time and attention revealing where life is frozen rigid. A suited young businessman crosses the road, only to be replaced by his homeless alternate; a woman in a pink t-shirt is engulfed with tears, but seconds later there is a content shopper in her place.

The Present gives us an impression quite different to most street photography where life is frozen. Here we glimpse the continuum: before/after, coming/going, either/or. Press releases SEO . A present that is a fleeting and provisional alignment, with no singularity or definitiveness; a world of shifting awareness and alternate realities, where life twists and spirals in a fraction of a second to another moment, another world, another consciousness.

The Present is the third in Paul Grahams trilogy of projects on America which began with American Night in 2003 and was followed in 2007 by a shimmer of possibility (winner of the Paris Photo Book Prize 2011 for the most significant photo book of the past 15 years). Directory Submission . The Present takes Grahams reputation as a master of the book form to new heights, employing multiple gatefolds to convey passages of time and the unfolding of urban life.

Text from the press release for The Present, the latest photo book by Paul Graham.

‘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.

Public Assembly: The Photographs of Mike Sinclair

For this week’s issue, we combed countless archives in search of the perfect photograph to accompany a history of the American Dream, the subject of the cover story by Jon Meacham. In the end, we turned to photographer Mike Sinclair, who’s been rigorously documenting America’s heartland near his home in Kansas City, Mo. When asked about his photos, he modestly says, “I never really set out to photograph the American Dream or western culture. These are not projects. The edits come out of thinking about themes. I like going through my work and then figuring it out.”

For more than 30 years, Sinclair has documented places where people gather, like state fairs, sporting events and parks. “I grew up in the heyday of LIFE and photojournalism. I realized early on that I was better at visual things,” he tells TIME.

Sinclair decided to pursue journalism at the University of Missouri, but after one year, he realized that it wasn’t a great fit. “I came under the spell of Winogrand and Friedlander and found them more interesting as a budding photojournalist. I eventually went to Southern Illinois University, where they had an undergraduate program in fine art photography. Once I got there, I was in heaven—it combined my interest in the fine arts and photography.”

“I just like everything about taking photos and going to these events. It’s a great counterpoint to photographing modern architecture,” says Sinclair, who does the job professionally to make a living between his documentary projects. All of his images reflect the rigor of an architectural photographer with the straightforward style of masters like Walker Evans, Joel Sternfeld and Stephen Shore.

“I switched to architecture because I thought after 30 or 40 years I’d have some kind of record of this time and what happened,” he explains.

Sinclair’s understated and introverted approach to documenting an event feels easygoing, placing viewers in the shoes of a local rather than an outsider. He photographs on trips he plans and usually goes with his family. “I kind of plant the camera in front of people and spend time with them,” he says. In all his images, he almost feels invisible.

Sinclair has no real plans for his work except to keep making it. In the beginning, he says, “I first shared the work to the owner of the Dolphin Gallery in Kansas City and was encouraged by him to show it [elsewhere]. Eventually, through them, my work found its way into collections around the country.” These collections include The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, also in Kansas City.

Sinclair disagrees when people label him as a certain type of photographer. “I don’t think of myself as a Midwestern photographer. I think the same sort of things happen everywhere I’ve been.” His image of the Fourth of July (featured above) speaks to his claim—it feels like it could represent almost anywhere in America.

“Part of what I’m interested in is this idea of public space and the preciousness of it. It’s something that we all need,” he says.

Mike Sinclair is a photographer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His current exhibition ‘Public Assembly’ is on view at Jen Bekman Projects in New York City until June 24. 

apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

Aperture aggregates the best posts from this past week in the photography blogosphere.

  • “Imagine a place where a thousand of your best photo friends and heroes have taken over an artsy southern town,” says Andrew Owen, managing director of this weekend’s Look3 Festival in Charlottesville, VA, “and over three days you take in a dozen gallery exhibits, eat at outdoor cafes between talks by legendary photographers, see new work from photographers working all over the world, and return home exhausted and inspired.” That’s where we’ll be for the next few days, in part presenting a special exhibition, the Aperture at Sixty Library, which will showcase highlights from Aperture’s many years of publishing. La Lettre de La Photographie profiles exhibitions at the festival by Hank Willis Thomas, Alex Webb, Bruce Gilden, Stanley Greene, and many more. NYTimes‘ LENS blog takes a closer look at Thomas’ work, LA Times‘ Framework interviews Mitch Dobrowner, whose work is also featured at Look3, and Time‘s LightBox speaks with guest curators Vincent Musi and David Griffin.
  • More in festival coverage, Flak Photo offers four free days of live streaming lectures and panel discussions from the Flash Forward Festival, emerging photographers from Canada, the US and the UK, in Boston, MA at Fairmont Battery Wharf, June 7 – 10, 2012, presented in part by the Magenta Foundation. Download the festival catalogue here, and check out the full calendar of events.
  • Meanwhile in Europe, PhotoEspana has gotten underway. Of particular interest: Image Anxiety, curated by Chinese independent curator Huang Du, and of course, the annual Photobooks of the Year exhibition. In other international festival and fair news, the word is out that Paris Photo will launch a Los Angeles edition in April, 2013 at the Paramount Studios, as reported by the LA Times and the British Journal of Photography.
  • NPR’s Claire O’Neill heads on a trip to the New York Times’ “Lively Morgue,” their basement newspaper archive which contains five-to-six million photographic prints and contact sheets, overseen by Jeff Roth, mined and disseminated on the Times’ brilliant Tumblr site by photo editor Darcy Eveleigh and others.
  • “Sometimes it takes me two hours to get down a street, because there are so many things to photograph and people to meet,” writes Magnum photographer Jacob Aue Sobol in his latest entry from Beijing for Leica Camera Blog’s fascinating Arrivals and Departures series, unfolding live. Follow Sobol’s journey along the Trans Siberian Railway, “from the Russian forests to the Mongolian desert and finally through the mountains to Beijing,” shooting black-and-white every step–quite literally–along the way with the Leica’s new digital monochrome-only camera. Episode five, offers up a stunning gallery of images–dynamic, saturated street photos that remind us of work by Eikoh Hosoe from Barakei.
  • Another historical archive of photographs has emerged in New York at the New York Public Library. A “visual encyclopedia” of 41,000 prints by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and others have recently been found, many digitized and now made available to the public on a special NYPL site. Originally compiled and organized  in the 30s and 40s by Roy Stryker, founder of the Farm Securities Administration’s photography project, many of the prints were in a public lending library until the 50s. ”Incredibly,” writes James Estrin for NY Times’ LENS blog, “anyone with a library card could check out an original print of a Dorothea Lange image and put it on their wall for a while. It’s easy to imagine that some were never returned.”
  • Find images of the once-in-a-lifetime Venus in Transit event which happens every 105 years or so, from LA TimesFramework, Boston‘s Big Picture, WSJ‘s Photo Journal, Conscientious, and The Atlantic‘s In Focus. Marvin Heiferman, author of the new book Photography Changes Everything (Aperture 2012), shared this great link on his twitter feed, “a history of photographers who’ve already tracked the Transit of Venus.”

apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

Aperture aggregates the best posts from this past week in the photography blogosphere.

  • Life shares a slideshow of black-and-white, mid-century images, “Orange Crush: In Praise of the Golden Gate Bridge,” to celebrate the  iconic bridge’s 75-year anniversary this Sunday, May 27, 2012. Coming soon: Aperture commemorates with a beautiful, oversized reissue of Richard Misrach’s monograph Golden Gate, in which the photographer shot the bridge in large format from his front porch at all times of the day for three years.
  • New Yorker‘s PhotoBooth and Time’s LightBox both share selections from the recently released 870,000-image archive of historical New York City photographs by the department of records. Both feature work by Eugene de Salignac of the Aperture monograph New York Rises (2007). A limited edition print of “Brooklyn Bridge, showing painters on suspenders, October 7, 1914” is featured on the cover of the monograph and in Time’s selection.
  • More on Gordon Parks this week, who was featured in David Campany’s essay in Aperture issue 206 and currently has a retrospective at the International Center of Photography, celebrating the centennial of his birth. PDN shares a 10-image gallery of his work, while La Lettre de la Photographie publishes a 1993 interview with Parks conducted by John Leongard, on what it was like photographing Black Muslims for Life magazine in the 60s.
  • Fototazo posts a lengthy recap of their group book discussion of Walker EvansAmerican Photographs with Flak Photo’s Andy Adams, focusing on essays from Gerry Badger’s The Pleasure of Good Photographs. The discussion, which is hosted on Facebook, continued Monday with the essay ”A Certain Sensibility: John Gossage, the Photographer as Auteur.” Stay tuned for a discussion of the essay ”Without Author or Art: The ‘Quiet’ Photograph” on Monday, June 4, 2012.
  • Rebecca Norris Webb, who spoke at Aperture gallery on Friday, March 23, 2012 during a co-lecture with Alex Webb, writes on the process of putting together her monograph My Dakota, launched on May 24, 2012 at the International Center of Photography, for Time’s LightBox. Work from the book will be exhibited at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, June 1 – October 13, 2012.
  • Photoshelter Blog interviews a multitude of industry professionals and posts “7 Myths About Portfolio Reviews Debunked,” which could be similarly useful to emerging photographers as their May 10 piece “Photography Through the Eyes of Art Directors,” featuring work from Alex Prager.
  • Appropriately timed, American Photo Magazine posts their annual list of Top 10 Photographers who shoot weddings, which is where most our staff here seems to have taken off for the long weekend. A companion piece at PopPhoto takes a closer look at these photographers’ gear and process.

apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

Aperture aggregates the best posts from this past week in the photography blogosphere.

  • Find May Day photos from around the world at Boston’s The Big Picture Show, New York TimesLensBlog, and LA TimesFramework. Time‘s LightBox also offers “Resources for Photographers Covering Protests,” a bit of a distillation of what the ACLU has up on their website. In addition this week, the National Press Photographers Association and other press groups “call on Justice Department to protect right to record,” pointing out that more than 70 people have been arrested documenting Occupy protests since last September.
  • The New Yorker‘s PhotoBooth shares brilliant photos from the eight night performance run of electronic music and Krautrock pioneers Kraftwerk at MoMA last week– those shows that sold out in a blink of an eye, crashing ticket servers. The featured photos were taken not by concert photographers, but audience members with their cell phones who shared on Instagram, Facebook and Flickr, including one by their pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones, who wrote for the magazine this week on the band’s legacy.
  • Daidō Moriyama, who is interviewed by Ivan Vartanian in Aperture issue 203, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award during ICP’s Infinity Award 2012 ceremony this past Wednesday, La Lettre De La Photographie reports, posting a gallery of his images. Be sure to check out the Daidō Moriyama pop-up library, on display at the ICP Library until May 23, 2012, and watch videos from Moriyama’s 2011 PRINTING SHOW–TKY at Aperture, a recreation of his 1974 ad hoc photobook-making performance of the same title. Moriyama also has his first solo museum exhibition, Fracture: Daido Moriyama, on view at LACMA through July 31, 2012, LA Times‘ Framework reports.
  • Ben Lowy, the “Hipstamatic Journalist,” an ardent defender of cell phone photography according to a New York Times profile and Q&A on LensBlog, also won an Infinity Award this week for his work in photojournalism. Soon, the Times reports, Hipstamatic will release a Ben Lowy Lens filter. This week, software developer jag.gr also released the 645 Pro camera app for the iPhone, Rob Galbraith reports, which appeals to advanced photographers and can capture TIFF images, features real-time shutter speed and aperture readouts, a live histogram, a choice of spot or multi-zone metering, as well as focus, exposure, and white balance lock. PhotoShelter Blog shares a lengthy post on “Why Instagram is Terrible for Photographers, and Why You Should Use It,” while APhotoEditor explores some of the many licensing issues with the social media sites through which these images are shared.
  • Read about the long strange saga of student photojournalist Andy Duann’s ‘bear falling out of a tree‘ photo which was went viral last week according to Poytner, eventually being picked up by the Associated Press (we first noticed it on WSJ‘s Photo Journal).  Duann had been considering legal action against his school, the University of Colorado, for distributing the photo without compensating him, until they acknowledged that he retained the copyright and announced they would no longer demand copyright from their students in the future.
  • MediaStorm share two videos this week that live up to their column titled, “Worth Watching.” First, watch Ian Ruhter’s SILVER & LIGHT clip about his–literally–truck-sized traveling camera. Then watch Jeff Harris’ sometimes-heart-wrenching video on his project collecting 4,748 daily self-portraits–and counting. MediaStorm also draws our attention to Aday, “a unique photographic event,” scheduled for May 15, 2012, in which countless people from all different backgrounds use any camera they can get access to and submit photos to create a massive historical document–”A Day in the World,” which will be published as a book in October 2012. Sign up today.
  • Andy Adam’s Flak Photo is teaming up with Tom Griggs’ fototazo next week to host an online community conversation focused on essays from Gerry Badger’s recently published The Pleasures of Good Photographs (Aperture 2010). We’re looking forward to Monday, May 7, 2012, which is when the discussion kicks off with the essay, “Literate, Authoritative, Transcendent: Walker Evans’s American Photographs.”

Exploring “The Pleasures of Good Photographs”

Exploring “The Pleasures of Good Photographs”

The Pleasure of Good Photographs by Gerry Badger. Photo by Tom Griggs

A Flak Photo Discussion with Tom Griggs

Hey Photobook Fans!

Flak Photo is is teaming up with fototazo creator Tom Griggs to host an online community conversation focused on essays from Gerry Badger’s recently published The Pleasures of Good Photographs. For those of you who don't already have a copy, Aperture Foundation offers a 20% discount for online orders via their website.

Order the book from Aperture Foundation »

Badger is a critic, curator, and photographer who — for over 30 years — has contributed essays to periodicals and books that shape our contemporary understanding of photography. Witty, scholarly, and highly readable, the essays touch on subjects from photobooks to Photoshop, using work from dozens of photographers to investigate themes that impact all of us as makers of and thinkers about photography.

This public discussion will provide a structured setting for reading the book and exploring its ideas. It will be a forum for expanding our understanding by reading collectively, a place for asking and answering questions and looking at how the book’s themes can be applied beyond the book itself.

All are welcome to join us in the conversation, which will be hosted in Flak Photo Books, a Facebook group designed to facilitate the collaborative exploration of new ideas in photography. Our first discussion kicks off on Monday, May 7, 2012 with the essay, "Literate, Authoritative, Transcendent: Walker Evans's American Photographs" (page 22).

Confirm your participation on our Facebook event »

Naturally, we'd love for more people to hear about this; please feel free to share this news with friends, students and colleagues who would be interested in contributing to the dialogue. Please, join us!