ART3010  American  Art  History  

Week  5,  Assignment  1:  Discussion  1   By Michael Galligan Although documentary photography attempts to be impartial about the situation it records, there are aesthetic approaches taken by photographers that elicit a strong reaction from the viewer. Click here to view a photograph, Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County Alabama, taken by Walker Evans that was made as part of a project that addressed the plight of migrant workers during the Great Depression. Consider his choice of setting, lighting, compositional arrangement, and title, among other strategies, to describe aspects of the Evans photograph that you think have been manipulated by the artist to produce an empathetic response from the viewer. Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County Alabama by Walker Evans.   In 1944 Ben Shahn summarized the philosophy of FSA photographers such as himself. “…we decided: no angle shots, no filters, no mats, nothing glossy but paper (Pohl 400). In essence this group of photographers worked to document what they saw in a straightforward way without “artistic” embellishments (Pohl 400). Walker Evans: a biography by Belinda Rathbone sheds more light on the circumstances of the extraordinary photographs taken at Mill’s Hill in Hale County, during the late summer of 1936.

Jim Agee, a writer for Fortune Magazine was asked to write an article on southern poverty. He requested and received the services of Walker Evans as his photographer for the assignment (Rathbone 120). This month long assignment would produce Walker Evans most memorable and pure images, such as Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama by Walker Evans. Evans would rarely pose a family, instead asking the family to arrange themselves (Pohl 401). He would wait until the posed smiles and body lines relaxed into what he saw as a more truthful image, which he shot with his heavy and boxy viewfinder camera. In this particular image he utilized a shallow depth of field that captured well the texture of the cotton dress and wood grain of the planks of the Burroughs home. Rathbone writes in her book that Allie Mae preferred not to be photographed with, or in her home due to its poor condition (Rathbone 132). In fact, Allie once quoted after arranging objects on her mantle it would be “her last effort to make this house pretty,” (Rathbone 131). Compositionally, Allie’s stance and tilted head play against the grain of the wooden planks forming subtle opposition. Thus her contempt for her living arrangement is captured. Her eyes are hard and her face is worn, but not defeated. There is a gritty determination that one arrives at through viewing her in this photograph. Walker Evans did his own darkroom work, often testing to make sure that the dark interiors of the Hale County works were possible to develop during this assignment (Rathbone 128). Fortune Magazine ultimately refused to publish the collaborative effort. However, in 1941Agee would publish their collaborative works in a book titled Let us Now Praise Famous Men. Work Cited 1. Pohl, Frances K. Framing America: A Social History of American Art. 2nd Edition. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 2008. 2. Rathbone, Belinda. Walker Evans: a Biography. 1955. First Mariner Books. 2000. Google books online. 16 September 2010 <books.google.com>. 3. Chilvers, Ian and Glaves-Smith, John. A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art. Oxford University Press Inc. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Art Institute Online. 16 September 2010 http://www.oxfordreference.com/.

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