Posts Tagged ‘Walker Evans’


Floyd and Lucille Burroughs; Walker Evans (American, 1903 – 1975); 1936



Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts.

Walker Evans


I am a big fan of the photos of Walker Evans. Some of my early Exiles paintings were inspired by his Depression era work, many of which were captured in a landmark book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,. Written by James Agee, the book is a document of the two men’s journey through the American south during that trying time.

I came across this quote from Evans and it made me appreciate his work even more. The idea that the eye traffics in feelings and not in thoughts is a simple one but it cuts right to the truth as any artist knows it to be. Art, whatever medium in which it takes place in, comes far before thought. It is that reaction, that feeling that hits you before your brain even begins to fully process what you are seeing that is the engine of art.

It is the feeling that bring on real thought afterwards. Allan artist can hope for their work.

I like seeing it put that way. And Mr. Evans certainly trafficked in feelings as the artist and joyous sensualist he was.

Here are just a tiny bit of his works.


Digital Photo File Name:DP264548.TIF
Online Publications Edited By Michelle Ma for TOAH 11_23_15



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Let Us Now Praise...


Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

      – Thomas Edison


I was going through old blog posts recently and I noticed that I had used the painting above a number of times in my earliest posts. It’s part of my Exiles series from back in 1995 and is titled Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, borrowed from the title of a group of Depression-era photos of sharecroppers in the American dust bowl shot by photographer Walker Evans.

I never really wrote about this painting except in what I saw as it’s similarity to what I saw in those photos of Depression era workers. I always felt a connection to this piece but thought it was an outer connection, one that simply had to do with my reaction to form and color and not with anything I might see of it in myself.

Maybe that was my hope.

But it is a painting that I find has more meaning for me than I might want to let on. It’s a piece to which I always return, again and again, to study closely. While I sometimes see it as apart from me, more and more as I live with it, part of me feels like I am that man, standing alone in his landscape.

A sometimes self portrait.

It’s not a flattering self portrait. I used to see this figure as sad or regretful, world weary. But that has changed over time.  There is some sadness, some regret but more than anything, I now see him as resigned, neither happy or sad. He is in his place with work behind him and much more work to do. It still has a weariness in it, but not from a physical standpoint. It is more a sense of tiredness from working to stay ahead of the world’s constant encroachment, the world’s constant erosion. But while it appears tired there is also a sense of implied strength and determination to stay on task.

The hand here is important to me, a symbol of the bond of a working mind and working hands. Ideas set in motion and realized.

It’s a painting that means more and more to me as times passes and the world works its erosive qualities on my self and my world, my landscape. Maybe I am that dirt farmer, looking back with pride in his work along with an apprehension that it will someday be carried away like dry soil in the wind.

I am not going to be around Sunday so here’s a little music for the morning, a day early. It fits pretty well in tone and substance to the painting above. It’s the immortal Otis Redding with I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.

Have a good weekend.




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It’s another Labor Day here in America.  Just another holiday for most, one that marks the end of summer and the transition into autumn.  That’s what it was to me in my younger days.  But it began as a way of honoring the contributions of the working class to our country’s growth and progress.  From the fields and factories to the shipyards and mines, labor has been the backbone that held this country up.  The idea of labor has taken on added meaning for me as I became more and more aware of the importance of it in our history as well as its relevance to my own well-being and identity.

You see, I consider myself a working man, probably before I consider myself an artist.  I learned in my early days working in a factory and toiling as a laborer in other jobs the value of  being able to put my head down and focus on the task at hand.   I learned that effort was the one variable I could control and that effort often overcame my deficiencies.  I might not be as strong or smart or as talented as the next guy but I firmly believed that I could always outwork  him.    Effort brought out the most in whatever limited attributes I might possess.  I believe that any success I have achieved as an artist can be directly tied to these lessons learned with a shovel in hand and the sweat running down.

This value of labor is often portrayed in my work, most often in the form of rows of fields.  This   piece above, from my early Exiles series, always reminds me of the tenant farmers in the Dust Bowl-era photos of Walker Evans in the famous James Agee book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.  Labor and effort was all they knew.

I could go on and on here about the value of the labor movement in America and the great debt we owe to those ancestors who fought and died for the rights and protective  regulations which we take for granted today.  Too many of us don’t realize how difficult the battle was for these rights and how quickly they could erode without continued effort and vigilance.   So, enjoy your holiday but remember what it means.

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Recently stumbled across a site that has become a new favorite.  It’s called Luminous Lint and is devoted to the art of fine photography from the earliest days of the medium up to the present time.  It is filled with an incredible archive of imagery from the work of the giants of photography such as Richard Avedon and Walker Evans to the most obscure photos from unknown photographers.  I have only scratched the surface with my own visits to this sight, at first drawn to it because I discovered they had a group of photos from Henry Beach, a photographer of the turn of the 20th century who chronicled life in the Adirondacks.  I was familar with some of his photos of the village of Forestport, a place I’ve mentioned several times here.  My great-grandfather was a prominent lumberman there in its heyday and it remains an area of fascination for me.

One of the oddities you can find on this site is a good sized collection of Post Mortem photography from the late 1800’s, such as the piece shown above.  It was not uncommon for families of that era to have photos taken of the recently deceased as a final memory of their family member.  It is a very different viewpoint of death than we have as a society today and perhaps stems from the relative nearness of death in their world as compared to ours.  I know from my genealogical research that many families losing several children to death was not uncommon and many households held extended families so that aged relatives passing was a normal course of everyday life.  Death was simply a part of life.  It still is even though we often try to deny and delay it. 

So, if you are attracted to imagery that is beautiful or odd or filled with history, this is a great site to spend a bit of time.  Unlike many sites, you won’t feel as thought your time was wasted.

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Let Us Now Praise Famous MenThis painting is another of the Exiles series, its title, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,  taken from a group of Depression-era photos of sharecroppers in the American dust bowl from the camera of Walker Evans.  I have always been taken with these portraits as well of those of Dorothea Lange.  There is a sense dignity and will that has an eternal quality as though anyone in anytime in any culture would know and could empathize with their sorrow, their struggle.

That universal feeling is what I had hoped for this piece.  I am never sure it hit that particular mark but there is something quite haunting for me in this slightly alien face and the sadness written in his face.  He is a true exile…

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