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Walker Evans: Carbon and Silver

August 24 - November 17, 2006

 

This fall, The UBS Art Gallery will present a new perspective on iconic works by one of America's greatest photographers. Walker Evans: Carbon and Silver, on view from August 24 to November 17, 2006, will explore the legacy of documentary photography by focusing on a significant moment in American history and a definitive period in Evans' career. Presented by the Yale University School of Art, where Walker Evans served on the faculty, the exhibition will honor Evans' innovative work and lasting influence on the medium of photography.

A self-taught photographer, Walker Evans (1903-1975) developed a "lyric documentary" style. At the height of the Great Depression, the Farm Security Administration commissioned Evans to record the lives of rural families. He also worked with the writer James Agee on a project centered on Southern sharecroppers that evolved into the 1941 book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The exhibition will feature approximately 88 photographs from 1935-1936 that exemplify Evans' meticulously detailed and honest photojournalistic style.

Exhibition curators John T. Hill and Sven Martson, photographers who worked with Walker Evans, will present a new perspective on this work by comparing photographs printed during Evans' lifetime with contemporary ink-jet prints made from digital files. These enlarged prints reveal intricate details that are hidden in the earlier versions of the images on view, which include vintage gelatin silver prints, books and magazines.

This innovative process of translating Evans' work honors the photographer's style and interests, since the precision of digital technology corresponds with Evans' preference for clearly presented information rather than stylized "fine art" prints. Evans also was eager to enlarge his work, but high costs and technological limitations made enlargements a rarity until late in his career, when he supervised enlargements for his 1971 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and for a portfolio in 1972.

 

Exhibition Highlights

The images featured in Walker Evans: Carbon and Silver capture the essence of American life during the Great Depression, recording the stark landscape and impoverished lifestyle he encountered in rural towns and farms. Highlights of Evans' work on view will include portraits, street scenes, landscapes, and images of businesses and homes that are evocative and mysterious.

Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer's Wife (1936) is shot in Evans' straightforward and dispassionate style, yet it evokes depths of emotion and character. Posed against the weathered boards of her farmhouse, the woman's powerful gaze and enigmatic expression convey both strength and weariness. The enlarged images in this exhibition will allow a closer look at some of Evans' more intricate works, including Penny Picture Display, Savannah (1936), which depicts hundreds of wallet-size pictures displayed in a photography studio window.

Evans enjoyed exploring architectural details of homes, churches and shops, since he felt these spaces revealed the nature of their inhabitants. The spartan décor and shadowy corners of Farmer's Kitchen, Hale County, Alabama (1936) has a quiet atmosphere. In contrast, Negro Barber Shop Interior, Atlanta (1936) is a dynamic image of a cluttered space, evoking a feeling of energy without the presence of customers. Another dynamic image, Roadside Stand near Birmingham (1936), features two boys proudly displaying watermelons at a fish market and farm stand with brightly painted signs promising "Honest Weights, Square Dealings."

Evans did not regard his work as a form of social protest, but many of his images express the dark truths of the Great Depression in haunting and symbolic ways. Joe's Auto Graveyard, Pennsylvania (1936), featuring a junkyard field filled with abandoned cars, has a profound sense of foreboding. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (1936), which shows mill workers' homes located between the mills and the cemetery, expresses a confining sense of entrapment.

 

The Yale University School of Art

The Yale University School of Art was founded in the 1860s, and graduated the first woman from Yale in 1869. As the oldest university affiliated art school in the country, the School of Art has had a rich history of joining the practice of studio art with the deep intellectual activity of a great research university. Since the 1950s, when Josef Albers was head of the School, it has educated a sizeable percentage of the notable artists of our time.

In 1964 Walker Evans was hired to teach in the School, and within a few years the photography program became a separate area of study, first under the direction of John Hill and then Tod Papageorge. Since its inception this small program, presently enrolling a total of nine students each year for a two-year Master's program, has produced important photographers unparalleled by any other photography program in the world.

 

 

(above: Walker Evans, Joe's Auto Graveyard, Pennsylvania,1936

 

(above: Walker Evans, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania,1936

 

 

(above: Walker Evans, Roadside Stand near Birmingham,1936

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