Sunday, November 7, 2010

Walker Evans exhibit London

I was fortune enough to view an exhibition of Walker Evans prints from his American Depression collection, this was housed and exhibited in the HiGate Gallery, South Grove, London. only what seemed to resonated an old victorian village hall.

What was very special about this was being able to examine print quality, and feel the stories unfold as they've been placed in a certain order. One thing that struck me was the print imperfections, that we now would throw away in modern printing. Despite this the quality exuded from print, contacts made from 10 x 8 inch negatives (negative placed directly onto the paper surface). 

I also reflected upon a print titled 'Steel Mill and Company Houses, Birmingham Alabama, 1936'  It reminded me of stories I had relayed to me from men of that era living in Kentucky. They told me of mining days where communities and small towns had formed around mines. Many of the mine workers would rent houses from the mine owners. They had a system set up where they were not paid in US dollars, but in 'mine dollars' say for example the daily wage was 5 mine dollars, a daily rent would be 2 mine dollars, and more importantly the food, clothing, cigarettes all were sold in a 'mine town store' the prices fixed by the mine owner, so all the money they could ever earn was only worth the value controlled by the owner. These small towns eventually either crumbled or slowly developed away from these controlling factors. The unions came in and greater US government powers took play. However especially in Eastern Kentucky, many small mining towns still exist, now facing high levels of unemployment, drug addiction, unemployment and interbreeding.

Many of these images that I have seen also still play a part in small towns of today, the streets, layouts, even the building still exist. Small town churches that are in the middle of nowhere, long dirt tracks, and run down housing. So in some ways did the pictures of Walker Evans reach that far? The small town that I lived in the US was one that had an older generation, that of the time of Walker Evans study. It is still a 'dry county' where the sale and consumption of liquor is prohibited, in the words of one man, 'Morgantown wasn't a fit place for a woman to walk alone in' - referring to the fact people drank heavy, fought and cursed on the streets. Thus they never moved on from prohibition in the 1930's. I'm in no way citing this a reason why this small town never moved on, in fact it's conception was once born from industry in the area, and like many places today suffered once again from the recent depression.

On the whole the exhibition was excellent and just like viewing great masters paintings in major galleries, viewing photographic prints in the flesh, beats books hands down every time!


AntoniGeorgiev said...

Nice one Dave, just feel sorry You didn`t say anything about going.. :/ maybe next time ;)

David said...

I was trying to get a trip planned so we could go to the lecture that was happening. But this trip was last minute as I was meeting my girlfriend from work... maybe another time. Think it's on until the 14th then it leaves the UK

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