Walker Evans Retrospective
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
On View Through February 4, 2018
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Article by Cathy Breslaw
Senior Curator of Photography Clément Chéroux brings the Walker Evans Retrospective to the San Francisco Museum of Art from its’ exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Walker Evans (1903-1975), was most interested in capturing the vernacular as the dictionary defines it: using a (visual) language or dialect native to a region or country. This solo exhibition includes 300 vintage prints and 100 art objects on loan from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Musée du quai Branly, the National Gallery of Canada. and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Known for his documentary style, Evans was fascinated by the ordinary. He photographed main streets of small towns, laborers, sharecroppers, dockworkers, transients, panhandlers, subway passengers and others whose challenging lives reflected human dignity and resilience in the face of adversity. His subjects were aware of being photographed, gazing directly into the lens of the camera and into the faces of the viewers who see this exhibition. Evans was also drawn to signage and typography, the organization of storefront displays, luncheonettes, gas stations, fruit and vegetable stands, and objects like paper, and flyers left by the side of the road – anything that revealed the character of the particular neighborhoods or towns he visited and photographed.
During the several decades of his career, Evans collected thousands of postcards, hand-painted signage, tickets, flyers, logos, brochures including a few paintings done by the artist, which are exhibited alongside the hundreds of photographic prints, all organized by theme, but all of which are classic documentary images of life in America during the 20th century. Having spent 20 plus years as staff photographer at Fortune Magazine, Evans also worked for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression during the 1920’s – 1940’s where his photographs put a ‘face’ on the poverty and under-recognized farmers, and general culture that he felt revealed “American-ness” at that time.
Passionate about the minute details of everyday American life, Evans was a primary influence in the development of the American documentary style of photography and in helping to shape how we see history, and to see the ‘everyday’ as sublime. Though his photos were not meant to be ‘artsy’ or ‘beautiful’, Evans’ s renditions of life in America are compelling – both in their compositional constructions as well as in the content they display.