Eye on the Collection: Artful Poses
View larger image
This object is a member of the following groups (click any group name to view all objects in that group):Artists: Walker Evans (PA '22)
Themes: MLC Portfolio: American Identity
In 1928 Walker Evans and his roommate, a young German architect named Paul Grotz, shared an apartment in Brooklyn. Evans was just starting to find his balance and his artistic vision, and had begun making photographs the previous year. He first came to New York in 1923, after graduating from Phillips Academy in 1922 and spending one year at Williams College. In 1926 and 1927 he traveled to Europe, where, in spite of his ambitions to participate in the avant-garde, he was a spectator rather than a member of the expatriate crowd in Paris. Evans did, however, begin to take snapshots during those two years, and 1928 marks the beginning of his serious involvement with photography.
Evans's picture of Paul Grotz documents the aesthetic and psychological portraiture that interested both young men at this time.<sup>1</sup> Grotz owned a Leica, the new German 35-mm camera that fascinated Evans, but Evans also experimented with larger formats (4 by 5 inches, 5 by 7 inches, and 61/2 by 81/2 inches) for his portraits.<sup>2</sup> The two men posed for each other, and discussed the German photographic movements of the New Vision and the <i>Neue Sachlichkeit</i> (New Objectivity). Their circle included Hans Skolle, a young German painter who was experimenting with New Objectivity ideas; <a href="http://accessaddison.andover.edu/PRT1055">Berenice Abbott</a>, an American photographer recently returned from Paris; and photographer and painter Ben Shahn. The portraits that Evans made of these friends seem to echo Abbott's Paris portraits of literary figures such as <a href="http://accessaddison.andover.edu/Obj7101">James Joyce</a> in the way that they combine care with casual detail. During these early New York years, Evans was also friendly with the poet Hart Crane. The 114 photographs by Evans in the Addison collection include many New York views he shot during the late 1920s, and these urban pictures share the self-conscious formal and geometric organization of the Grotz portrait. Evans took many photographs while exploring the city with Grotz and Crane, and in 1930 his views of the Brooklyn Bridge were published as illustrations to Crane's <i>The Bridge</i>.
The portrait of Paul Grotz reveals the close understanding that existed between the roommates and their interest in formal experimentation. Evans was exploring what Gilles Mora calls "the deconstruction of the photographic portrait," a subject that would fascinate him throughout his life.<sup>3</sup> Working in their small apartment, the young men donned costumes and arranged dramatic lighting.<sup>4</sup> For his portrait, Paul Grotz wore a bowler hat and an overcoat. The strong silhouette and shadows of the bowler's curved shape contrast with the angle of Grotz's dark eyebrows and the angles of his loosely knotted tie. The bowler creates an air of anachronistic formality, whereas Grotz's coat sends a contrasting, informal message: clearly well used, it shows the marks of dirt and long, comfortable wear. Evans framed Grotz's head slightly off center, increasing the picture's intentional unbalance. The effect of Grotz's brooding gaze, combined with the asymmetrical composition, bears clear references to the straightforward yet intense German portraits by August Sander and the New Objectivity photographers. Sander's photographs of the German intelligentsia and professional classes contain similar tensions, and Evans wrote admiringly about Sander's work in <i>Hound & Horn</i> in 1931.<sup>5</sup> In this early essay, Evans already condemned artistic photography in the tradition of Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz, and he later used the example of Sander and of German photography critics such as Franz Roh in developing a more transparent documentary style over the next five or six years.
The beginnings of this transparency are evident in Evans's <i><a href="http://accessaddison.andover.edu/Obj12714">Self Portrait</a></i> of around 1932-33. Instead of the more theatrical portraits that he and Grotz made of their circle in the late 1920s, this view is simpler, closer in, and less formal. Evans used a large-format 6-by-8-inch camera, much as he had done in the earlier portraits, but he framed his own face less severely. Here, he tilts his head toward the left side of the frame, quizzically looking into the ground glass while an unseen hand releases the shutter. Another self-portrait from this sitting, in the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., is more dour, with a frontal and centered composition. The clear lighting, simple composition, and pensive expression of the Addison's <i>Self Portrait</i> would recur in many of Evans's portraits for the Farm Security Administration two or three years later. In its clarity, this image also reflects the new documentary style that he was concurrently developing in his Cuban photographs, taken in 1933 to illustrate <i>The Crime of Cuba</i> by Carleton Beals.
Evans made portraits throughout his life, and they continued to reflect a German pattern of close observation and composition while adopting the seeming transparency of the documentary style. The Addison Gallery collection is rich in his portraits, and also includes several of the New York City subway portraits that Evans made with a concealed camera from 1938 to 1941.
Kim Sichel, <i>Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue</i> (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 368-69
1. Thanks are due to Laura Muir, former Boston University graduate student intern at the Addison Gallery, who researched the Evans photographs in the collection.
2. Jerry Thompson, <i>Walker Evans at Work</i> (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), p. 48.
3. Gilles Mora, introduction to <i>Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye</i>, trans. Jacqueline Taylor (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993), p. 11.
4. Belinda Rathbone, <i>Walker Evans, A Biography</i> (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995), p. 40.
5. Walker Evans, "The Reappearance of Photography," <i>Hound & Horn</i> (October/December 1931), pp. 125-28.
This object was included in the following exhibitions:Heads II: Heads: an exhibit which explores some of the many ways the human head , Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/18/1981 - 10/25/1981
American Photography from the Permanent Collection in Celebration of the 50th An, Addison Gallery of American Art, 10/13/1989 - 12/18/1989
Geometry of the City: Walker Evans Photographs of New York (1928-1930), Addison Gallery of American Art, 3/15/1993 - 4/19/1993
Faces of the Addison: Portraits from the Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/23/1994 - 7/31/1994
Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, Addison Gallery of American Art, 4/13/1996 - 7/31/1996
Identity and Intention: Two Centuries of American Portraiture, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/4/2001 - 12/30/2001
Eye on the Collection: Artful Poses, Addison Gallery of American Art, 2/1/2014 - 3/30/2014
Your current search criteria is: Exhibition is "Eye on the Collection: Artful Poses"