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Getty Museum's Photographs by Walker Evans and his Predecessors Explore American Life

The American Tradition & Walker Evans: Photographs from the Getty Collection July 10-October 28, 2001

Press Preview: Tuesday, July 10, 9-11 a.m.

June 28, 2001

Los Angeles—The American Tradition & Walker Evans: Photographs from the Getty Collection, on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum from July 10 through October 28, complements the exhibition Walker Evans & Company: Works from The Museum of Modern Art by illuminating how photographers working before and around Evans (American, 1903-1975) uniquely captured and defined quintessentially American subjects. While Walker Evans & Company concentrates on the impact of Evans' work on other artists, mainly from the 1930s to the present, The American Tradition & Walker Evans will focus on Evans' predecessors and contemporaries.

The exhibition will feature more than 100 American photographs from the Getty Museum's comprehensive collection, which houses more of Evans' early prints than any other museum. In addition to 35 Walker Evans photographs, The American Tradition & Walker Evans will feature 78 works by artists working before and around him ranging from regional photographers, such as Carleton Watkins of San Francisco and the Langenheim brothers of Philadelphia, to classic photographs from the first third of the 20th century by artists such as Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, Paul Strand, and Doris Ulmann.

Weston Naef, curator of the Getty Museum's department of photographs, said, "We have seized this opportunity to bring from our storeroom many never before displayed or published photographs, some made more than a century ago when most photographers sought to capture both truth and beauty in a single work."

Walker Evans' quest for the quintessentially American involved small-town main streets and their inhabitants, the signs and storefronts that advertised and sold the products Americans used, their modes of transportation, the places they called home, public monuments, and the American people themselves, from farmers to city dwellers.

Evans' image of a photographer's sidewalk advertisement, Penny Picture Display, Savannah (1936) is emblematic of the exhibition and of Evans' perspective on photography as a self-descriptive process. In the picture, dozens of formalized studio portraits represent a stark contrast to Evans' own intimate yet analytical style of portraiture. The studio photographer manufactures a product as efficiently and emotionlessly as possible, while for Evans and his stylistic precursors, the portrait could be an opportunity to express something about the uniqueness of people and the context in which they existed.

In its examination of Evans' predecessors, The American Tradition & Walker Evans will devote a section to daguerreotypes, which dominated photography in America in the 1840s, and stereographs, which, beginning in the 1850s, animated the parlors of many American homes with their illusion of three-dimensionality. When viewed through a lensed device, stereographs created vivid three-dimensionality that leant itself to monuments, architecture, and cityscapes. William and Frederick Langenheim's (American, 1807-74 and 1809-79) stereograph Cathedral, Baltimore (about 1850-1855) shows how the photographers anticipated Evans' interest in the special relationship between the past and the present. Although titled Cathedral, Baltimore, the twin towers of the old cathedral are barely visible, and the viewer's attention instead rests on an African American man in the foreground. This may be a record of Baltimore's importance as a city that welcomed freed slaves in the pre-Civil War era.

An example from the early 20th century will be a photograph by Lewis Hine (American 1874-1940) that documents child labor, a harsh component of American life in the early 1900s. Tony Casale, Newsboy, Hartford, Connecticut (1909) is an image of one of the young victims of urban commerce. It anticipates the documentary approach that Evans would later use to record the plight of Southern tenant farmers during the Depression and links the two photographers in a common enterprise of creating portraits of the American people in all their variety.

Related Publications

Walker Evans' photographs of life in Cuba in 1933 are the subject of a new Getty publication, Walker Evans: Cuba. The 96-page book includes more than 60 photographs from the Getty Museum's collection and an essay by writer and commentator Andrei Codrescu (hardcover: $24.95). This book complements three other Walker Evans titles previously published by the Getty—Walker Evans: The Getty Museum Collection, Walker Evans: Signs, and Walker Evans: Florida.

All of these books are available in the Getty Museum bookstore, via the Internet at www.getty.edu, or by calling 800-223-3431.

Note to editors: Color images available upon request.

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About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Sign up for e-Getty at www.getty.edu/subscribe to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa via e-mail, or visit our event calendar for a complete calendar of public programs.

The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, and European and American photographs. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.