Thursday, March 22, 2012

ism of the week - week 6

Each week during our current exhibition, ...isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries, we will post deeper insight into one of the paintings on view. Past the credit line, past the exhibition label, Assistant Curator Amanda Burdan shares her thoughts:

This image of a laborer was one of several portraits of working class men and women Walker Evans made on a trip to Cuba in 1933. Commissioned to photograph Machado-era Cuba for Carleton Beals’ book The Crime of Cuba, Evans went about his assignment without a specific political agenda. In later years he insisted he had not read the manuscript for the book prior to his trip and went with an open mind to photograph Cuba and its people as he experienced them. A mix of tight portraits, like this one, and scenes capturing both the streets of Havana and the surrounding villages, the resulting portfolio of thirty-one images has since become more widely known than the book they illustrated.

This assignment predates Evans’ work for the Farm Security Administration, but also foreshadows the kind of imagery he, and other so-called “information specialists” working for the United States government, would gather throughout the Depression. Evans’ respectful approach to this coal dock worker trained him for documenting the impoverished conditions of sharecroppers and tenant farmers in this country only a few years later. Evans allows the man’s tanned and leathery skin and bristly beard to narrate the story of the long hours he spent toiling in the Cuban summer sun. In many ways, he does the same in his later photographs of sharecroppers who appear hard-working and noble despite their tattered clothing and dirty faces.

Walker Evans
Dockworker, Havana,

Gelatin silver print

Florence Griswold Museum

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