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Looking for Walker Evans

text by Robert Goethals, photography by Walker Evans

Walker Evans. South Street, 1932 JGS, Inc Permanent Collection

In his wayward youth, Walker Evans enjoyed privileges unavailable to most. A slacker at Philips Andover, he later aged his herringbone jacket at Williams College, where the nerdboy didnt do much beyond

holing up in the library, reading racy novels. After dropping out, Evans set sail for Paris to write his own, but later confessed the book was a blank. Then, 25, back in Manhattan, Walker discovered how pleasant a camera felt in his hands. His creative cabral magically transformed by the alchemy of photographs.

Walker Evans, Billboards & frame houses, Metropolitan Museum of Art,1936

Evans held zero interest in shooting icons of wealth and celebrity. When he shot sass Carole Lombard, she was painted on a gigantic billboard, brooding from her perch between two dilapidated frames, her black-eyed glam dimmed and peeling after countless days in the sun. Silently contemplating Evans portraits of sharecroppers, coal miners, and bread givers photonic-like will burn through the fog of

American Depression for Dumbasses. In the face of waves of human misery, a supernaturally squalid American landscape of dustbowls, camps, and alluvial deltas, Evans awareness of the advantages he inherited in life fired his feelings of failure and betrayal and Incited guilt in a nations colossal heart. The social realist, with killer artists like Gordon Parks and Ben Shahn, (all gainfully employed by the Farm Security Administration, natch), contributed in springing these workers from demon poverty. Walker is not history. This is no flashback, son. Dead and buried, dude fast forwards from the grave, awakening us to our own cruel imprisonments.

Walker Evans, Childs grave, George Eastman House

In Our Great Land of Opportunity, over 50 million people live in numbing poverty. Topic stays on the do-lo for fear youll be spitefully branded, some kind of crazy-assed socialist, Mr. Big likes his pix wet and glam. We may see or hear about some vague new army of luckless losers but dont see em much on our bitchin Apple displays. Seeings believing, right? Well escape next weeks Meltdown the Risk Robots muse, and Wall Street ballers serenely contemplate their Sexy Eight-Figures democratically riding the downtown train not giving two shits about anybody else. There are no chroniclers like Walker Evans aboard to dignify the mumbling mess of a dude, jangling for change, stumbling from one car to the next. Indeed, the once-powerful magazines funding consciousness-raisers like Walker Evans have been sucked down a whirling financial vortex of homelessness, too.

Ben Shahn, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Walking down a New York City street, witnessing the peripatetic and chill point-and-shooters, you might go photography is awesomely alive. Walker Evans might grin. Man shot with scruffy old view cameras mixing things up with Polaroids in the end. Evans was no technology-hater, just hip to how photography wasnt about taking pictures. Its a matter of having an eye, he once told me in a graveyard, me dazed and confused, he shooting the tombstones. The cameras not the thing. Its the mind behind it. ~ Robert Goethals, October 2010

Walker Evans, Rob Goethals, Metropolitan Museum of Art