Poets use the same language as journalists and lawyers and curators. Just so, the
mundane realism of photography—the medium of mug shots and real-estate ads—can be the stuff of visual poetry. The American photographer Walker Evans was among the first to recognize this potential.
Evans (1903-1975) did most of his best work in the 1930s, and his pictures have
been celebrated as documents of the Great Depression. But his concerns ranged
far beyond the troubles of the 1930s, and his inventive pursuit of descriptive
photography laid the foundations of a robust creative tradition. His restless probing
of American identity radically broadened the engagement of advanced photography—and of modern art—with the world outside the studio.
In the exhibition, Evans's photographs are arranged in eight groups, each
concentrating on a single dimension of his art. Each group is presented together with
works by other artists that contributed to, drew upon, or otherwise resonate with
Evans's work. In a sense, then, Evans is treated not as one artist but as eight,
and a single, complex tradition is traced eight times, each time along a different path.
Some art seeks to create beauty or to express deep emotion. Evans's work might be
described as a form of inspired curiosity, aimed at precisely framed questions rather
than definitive answers. He showed that symbol resides in fact, that significance lies
in the ordinary, and that articulate description can be a vehicle of wit, irony, humor,
and intelligence. And he proved that if an artist looks outward rather than inward,
beauty and emotion will take care of themselves.
Chief Curator, Department of Photography
The Museum of Modern Art, New York