In my last essay, I spoke about being influenced by those photographers who came before us. In these past few months, my visual journey has been temporarily co-opted by Walker Evans. Since Ward Rosin suggested we do an in-depth dive into his work on my Street Shots podcast, I’ve been reading as much about him as I can and going broke buying more of his books.
Evans has always been a photographic hero to me. I’m not sure where it came from exactly. Maybe I had a book of his when I was growing up or saw a show of his work at the museum when I was a kid. I can’t really remember. I do recall seeing his subway portraits and falling in love with them because they spoke directly to me as a New Yorker, even if they were separated from my present by thirty years.
After I spent some time with Evans this summer, a switch flipped in my head. I started walking around my neighborhood looking for the kind of things I think he would have photographed. I even took a little trip upstate New York to a beautiful little town called Hudson. It was a goldmine in terms of historic architecture and other details. Walking around the streets of Hudson, I began to wonder if Evans had ever been there; it certain would’ve been worth his visit.
I chose to shoot my explorations in black and white not only because that’s what Evans worked in (he did at some point in his life say that “color was vulgar“) but I really wanted to strip away the distractions of color. I wanted my eyes to relax. Having a camera where I could preview the image in the viewfinder close to the final way I wanted to record it was a huge benefit. In fact, I even created a picture profile preset on my camera and called it “Evans.”In my imagination I was time-tripping back to the 1930s where I could be his apprentice.
This journey got me thinking at what point does the work become imitation and not homage? Was I channeling Evans, looking through his eyes? Was I copying him? Well, I’ll leave that for you to decide. Maybe I’m just seeing the same things Evans saw; a transitional world I want to document before it changes completely.
I think what I’ve learned from Evans and his work is how to look at the things and places I see every day, look at them in a new way and document them as simply and honestly as I can. And to do so now because they might not be here that much longer.