31 May 2008

Geoff Dyer and the Legacy of Walker Evans

"The simple truth is that the best exponents of the art of
contemporary photography continue to produce work
that fits broadly within the tradition of what Evans
termed 'documentary style'." ~ Geoff Dyer
I agree with this statement, made by Dyer in this essay from The Guardian. What I think Dyer underplays, however, is the persistent campaign Evans and his allies waged, over the course of a number of years, to insure that his own work was categorized otherwise. Evans sought the appellation "art" for himself and, in order to attain it, sought to made sure their were others (e.g., Margaret Bourke-White) from whom critics could and should withhold it. (For the details of this story see: John Stomberg. 2007. "A Genealogy of Orthodox Documentary." In Beautiful Suffering: Photography & the Traffic in Pain. Edited by Mark Reinhardt, et. al., University of Chicago Press.) In other words, like Stieglitz before him, Evans tried his damnedest to impose just the sort of invidious distinction upon photography that Dyer himself finds so troubling.

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