WHAT WOULD WHO DO, AND HOW DA YA KNOW?
By MICHAEL PERKINS
LIKE ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS, I am more or less the sum-total of the various artists who have influenced me over a lifetime. This doesn’t mean that I intentionally emulate anyone in particular (at least not consciously), but occasionally, I will notice that this or that shot suggests an approach that resembles one that’s traceable to one Grand Master or other. For example, after seeing and shooting the above storefront, it occurred to me that the classic street shooter Walker Evans might have chosen such a subject: a mad mix of cultural objects, signage and cluttered detail. On sharing this idea with a friend, I was informed that “Evans, of course, would never shoot it in color”. The remark reminded me that, while Evans’ work was, indeed, primarily in black and white, there is no reason that he’d specifically shoot it that way today, right here, right now.
In glorifying particular artists who worked primarily in one mode, we can easily make the mistake in assuming that certain quotes we cite from them on the subject were the way they always felt, every day, every second of their life, and, of course, that is absurd. In the case of Walker Evans, it may be a historical fact that the bulk of his work from the 30’s through the ’70’s, much of it simply documentary in nature, is in mono. However, it’s not demonstrably true that, besides a few stray comments, he universally disdained color or wouldn’t use it. In point of fact, toward the end of his life, he fell in love with the color work he was doing with a Polaroid SX-70 instant camera, and went out of his way to revise any earlier remarks he might have made about the medium being less authentic or “photographic” monochrome:
I don’t think that the doors (that are) open to falsehood through color are any greater than they are than through the manipulation of black and white. You can distort that, too. I’m not a ‘black-and-white’ man: I think grey is truer.
Evans was indisputably one of the most eloquent chroniclers of the the visceral impacts of social upheaval and challenge in the 20th-century, and he properly deserves his place in the pantheon of photographic pioneers. However, knowing more, and better, about all of his beliefs, of the full range of his work, is the best way of doing him honor. Ultimately, either in mono or in color, I think Walker would have liked this particular storefront window, as he had loved so many over his long career, simply because it was speaking in the same language as his camera, and his unerring eye.
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