The Walker Evans filter - truth in photography
Just read a great little piece on Mike Johnson blog - it ties in with the threads on here about the "Ansel Adams filter" ( ) and also the "Reuters drops photographer over doctored image" thread ( )
Truth is Illusive
"What got me meditating on this with regard to photography (yes, I'll get back to photography), is a comment John Roberts made in the "Digital Ansel Adams Filter Invented" thread: "I think I'll wait until the Walker Evans filter comes out," he writes.
He doesn't need to wait. A Walker Evans filter has always been available for those with the integrity and strength of character to use it...." more
(actually it's rather tragic that Evan's books are not really well known save to specialists -- of the photo-history type, not so much historians of thebooks' own topics)
Evans made the sort of photos that people, especially photographers, look at and say "nothing much going on here, anyone can make these..." There are many more temptations for photographers these days, as well, what with digital technology and all that goes along with it. The temptation for all of us is to mess around with an image because we can, not because we should. And let's face it, most photographers look at the world and see...the world...plain and ordinary, and for many that is not enough. The world must be prettified, we must place our stamp upon what we see, or what is the point? Anyone can walk about with a camera, point it at a sign, or a delapidated street and click away, making Evans photos, can't they?
No they can't which is the whole point.
There's that word again: Truth.
I hate that word. Doesn't mean shit anymore 'cause everyone has their own concept of truth. Just leads to more polarization and conflict.
(End of rant.)
Walker Evans. His filter was honesty. Pure, simple, straightforward. Don't see much of that anymore.
The camera points both ways. What we should hope to see in the photographs of an individual is their view of the world, and maybe get a little insight into how that person thinks creatively. While elusive, it is genuine (another word different than truth).
Contrast that with the photographer who attempts to photograph what he thinks others might want to see. I am not blindly referring to all commercial imaging with this statement, since the top of commercial imaging does reflect upon the photographer. However, many of us have likely seen the all to common postcard type images, or popular attractions; basically touristy type images some photographers might hope will sell to someone; and that could be stock imagery, fine art or editions of images, or in some cases less inspired commercial work.
To professional photographers, ask yourself if it was not for the money, would you still be doing a particular job for a client. To amateurs, or fine art photographers, ask yourself what your images say about you. Be honest to yourself, and others should see that in your images.
A G Studio
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I much appreciate Walker Evans and his photographs. I am much of the opinion that an unmanipulated photograph neither tells the truth or lies. I belive a photograph merely shows the viewer something. Hopefully, something worth the viewer's time and attention. I believe that the truth or falsehood of the photo is a result of words that accompany the photo or are brought to bear by something internal with the viewer.
For example, let us say that I have a photo of (2) cheese souffles. One is a nice puffy golden brown and the other is a soggy, fallen burnt mess. So, there you have it. No truth or lie. Make what you will of it.
Now, lets assume that these photos are part of a cookbook. In the text the author explains how each was prepared. Still pretty straightforward as long as the information is accurately presented.
Lets asume that the photos are being offered with titles. One may be titled "Democracy" the other is titled "Tyranny". It matters not which photo bears which title. I am not against photographers that use titles to convey a point. However, what iremains is that you have 2 photos of souffles, you do not have "Democracy" or "Tyranny".
Lets us assume that 3 viewers are seeing the untitled photographs. The reaction of viewer A is. " One photo looks like the souffles we make at home, the other looks like souffles my mom used to make." Viewer B looks at the photos and thinks "Boy there sure is a difference in the results you get depending on the way you make your tuna casserole." Viewer C says "God, not more souffle photos, how boring."
I am very happy that Mr Evans took the time and effort to show us these things.
Claire (Ms Anne Thrope is in the darkroom)
Perhaps tellingly wrt this discussion, STUDIO contains little of the social commentary implicit in much of Evans's other work, say Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (which did come with descriptions, and a text to ensure the photos were viewed from an appropriate mental frame)
Still, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Last edited by bjorke; 08-09-2006 at 07:06 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Reason: had to hunt down a URL
ahh Clare - I see you side with Pontius Pilate (and imo some of the truest words spoken in the good book...).
I think the thing about Evans is his work wasn't about the truth, but a truth. Really, the truth is generally a big fat red herring - does god exist, did the Israelis or Hezbollah start it, what is the meaning of life - pick you truth - they are all essentially pointless quests.
Photographers like Evans remind us of or call our attention to just one, small truth - a truth - what the essay describes as "Not all truth, just the limited subset of it he could show" - that he saw this sign (or this families, or this person, or this building) and it meant something when he saw it and it simply looked like this.
The right photograph would say exactly the same for your souffles
"Walker Evans's photographs strike me a lot like Tom McCarthy's essay: beautiful, as long as you understand that beautiful is the wrong word. Evans was always trying to get at truth. Not all truth, just the limited subset of it he could show".
I am NOT a fan of Pontius Pilate..to imply otherwise is to demean your ability to read and to think.
Claire (Ms Anne Thrope is in the darkroom)
the essence I got from your post is "what is truth" - is that incorrect?
Originally Posted by Claire Senft
(no need to get your knickers in a knot over it, I'm sure)