Task 3 of Visual Language is to research 3 photographers who utilise text and images. This research is also relevant to the Windows on the World Brief.
“Combining written text with images has a long history in art. Medieval manuscripts in Christian Europe are interlaced with pictures that exist in a rhetorical relationship with the written text to create layered meaning and verbal/visual puns. William Blake, eighteenth century British poet, published books of his writing with his own illustrations and quickly learned that the synthesis evoked meanings beyond the power of words or pictures alone. Dadaists and Surrealists in early twentieth century Europe combined fragments of found text with appropriated photographic images to open alternative, sometimes irrational, paths of communication they felt were missing from straight art.”
Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College, Chicago
After reviewing a number of books and websites I decided to explore the work of Walker Evans, Jim Goldberg and Jeff Wolin. I choose these three photographers because they use text and images in different ways. Evans is very much a documentary style and seems to love the typography, i.e. the fonts, style and layout of text within and as the image. Goldberg’s addition of his subjects text around the image add a different context to the image and in my opinion allow the photographs to speak for themselves and finally Wolin incorporates the words of his subjects as the backdrop to his subjects and in fact the subjects often seem to be almost fighting for space on the image with the textual element.
This is a photograph taken by Paul Strand in New York in 1916. The simple text adds massively to the impact of the image. Walker Evans cited seeing this photograph as being a major influence on his decision to pursue a career as a photographer
“WALKER EVANS: No. Nothing. Well, I did get excited over one Paul Strand picture. I remember his famous Blind Woman excited me very much. I said that’s the thing you do. That really charged me.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Do you remember what the qualities were of that photograph?
WALKER EVANS: The Strand picture? Sure. It was strong and real it seemed to me. And a little bit shocking; brutal.
PAUL CUMMINGS: Well, those were qualities then that you worked for – right?
WALKER EVANS: Well, that’s what attracted me in art. I mean I would read a book like Thompson’s Hunger and that was a joy because I thought that was real. It really wasn’t. But the lack of judgment of this particular youth – me – led me to believe that since I had a genteel upbringing that real life was starvation; so that it was honest to write about that. That’s all wrong; but that’s what I thought. I thought to photograph the Blind Woman was the thing to do.”
Extracted from Oral history interview with Walker Evans, 1971 Oct. 13-Dec. 23, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Evans’ works for government agencies and this interview with Paul Cummins are in the public domain.
Evans is most famous for his work during the post great depression period whilst working for the Resettlement Administration (from September 1937 became the FSA (Farm Settlement Administration)) between 1935 and 1938 which was also responsible for Dorothy Lange’s iconic “Migrant” Mother image as part of their photographic project to document their work. Evans saw it as a great opportunity to develop is artitistic eye whilst being sponsored to travel and take photographs although he was dismissive of the bureaucracy surrounding it.
Walker Evans created a seamless text/image collage by including advertising signs, often fragmented, in his photographs. sometimes these were carefully crafted landscapes or interiors at other times opportunist street photography as per the examples below :-
In the summer of 1936, while still working for the FSA, he and writer James Agee were sent by Fortune magazine on assignment to Hale County, Alabama, for a story the magazine subsequently opted not to run. In 1941, Evans’s photographs and Agee’s text detailing the duo’s stay with three white tenant families in southern Alabama during the Great Depression were published as the groundbreaking book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Its detailed account of three farming families, The Burroughs, Field’s and Tingles, paints a deeply moving portrait of rural poverty.
This image of Allie Mae Burroughs made her an icon of the Great Depression era. Evans had an uncanny knack for capturing what was a rapidly changing social and cultural environment and many of his images are references for that period in American History.
In his later years Evans spent a lot of time capturing street images using a small polaroid camera which he could conceal in his clothing. However in his early career he openly photographed what was around him and he had a keen eye for what was happening around him. This may have partly been due to the limitations of camera technology as it was much bigger and bulkier than later models.
He was, for a photographer of his era, strangely uninterested in the production of his images often leaving that to others giving them brief notes with the negatives, this may explain his later fascination and use of polaroid technology as providing instant results.
Walker Evans work inspired many other photographers and artists to reappraise the way that they view text and images and it could be said that as a result of his work by the 1970’s / 80’s it was an established photographic genre.
Is an American photographer, born 1953, whose work reflects long-term, in-depth collaborations with neglected, ignored, or otherwise forgotten sections of society.
Goldberg is a Professor of Photography and Fine Arts at the California College of the Arts and is a member of the Magnum Photos Agency.
The work that brought him to prominence was called “Rich and Poor”, Goldberg photographed his subjects in their homes and then got them to add comments to their prints this work was featured with that of Robert Adams and Joel Sternfeld in a 1984 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art entitled “Three Americans”.
The comments added by the subjects are by turn sad, moving and revealing. Although the subjects clearly vary hugely in terms of background, education and of course wealth a consistent theme is the inability to communicate with the people around them. Further an inability to act in the way they would like compared to the way that they do act. This provides deeply revealing poignant insights into the human condition. Initially it was met with some criticism but has since become recognised and hailed as a landmark work.
“My life is personal, but I will tell you one thing I’m too fat.”
Edgar looks splendid here. His power and strength of character come through. He is a very private person who is most demonstrative of his affection; that has made me very very unhappy.
I accept him as he is. We are totally devoted to each other. Dear Jim may you be as lucky in marriage!”
We have no one to talk to now,
however, I will not allow this loneliness to destroy me
– I STILL HAVE MY DREAMS.
I would like an elegant home, a loving husband and the wealth I am used to.”
“I wish that Stanley and I could like each other when we are together – But we don’t.”
“When I look at this Picture I feel Alone. it makes me want to reach out to
Patty and make our relationship work.”
Goldberg went on to do similar treatments with an exhibition called “The nursing home series” and an exhibition and book entitled “Raised by Wolves” about homeless children in California.
Another interesting thing about Goldberg is that as a teacher he is very open about the process he uses to capture his work whereas most practitioners of his calibre are quite secretive about the process and mechanisms they use to achieve successful works.
He lives and works in San Francisco and apart from his art work he has a large body of commercial fashion, editorial and advertising work that has appeared in numerous publications including W, Details, Flaunt, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Rebel, GQ, The New Yorker and Dazed and Confused.
Jeffrey A. Wolin, born 1951 is Ruth N. Halls Professor of Photography at Indiana University.His work is part of the permanent collections of many including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Houston Museum of Fine Arts; Art Institute of Chicago; Cleveland Museum of Art; New York Public Library; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Bibliotèque Nationale de France, Paris; and Museum of Modern Art, New York. Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts » Faculty . 2015. Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts » Faculty . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.indiana.edu/~finaweb/test/cms/fina/areas/photography/photography-faculty. [Accessed 04 March 2015].
He has used a technique of hand writing the life stories / comments of his subjects on the prints and covering a wide range of topics including Holocaust Survivors, Residents of Pigeon Hill – a deprived area of Bloomington, Indiana and with slightly different technique Vietnam Veterans.
Jeffrey Wolin began photographing Pigeon Hill–known simply as “the hill” to its residents at the Crestmont Housing Project in Bloomington, Indiana. Pigeon Hill, a mere five blocks wide and three blocks deep on the west side of Bloomington, was long known for its dangerous reputation of being an area rampant in poverty, crime, and substance abuse after reading about the grisly murder of resident and former Indiana University graduate student Ellen Marks. Through slowly gaining the trust of the community, Wolin photographed individuals and families that lived in the area from 1987-1991.
Reading about another murder in 2010 of one of his earlier subjects – Crystal Grubb – he revisited the area to re-photograph many of his subjects and update how their lives had developed in the intervening 20 years in a series called “Pigeon Hill Then and Now”.
I was successful for a while but then the nightmares about ‘Nam started and I had to drink. The only way I can get through the night without getting up is when I’m passed-out drunk. But I haven’t had a drink since ’95 when I got in trouble again. An east Texas judge wouldn’t believe that I was a thrifty shopper and that the 320 pounds of marijuana in the trunk were all for me. I wound up in a Texas prison. I served 3 years, 3 months. I am presently on parole for that offence – possession of marijuana, not distribution. When I got out I had 89 months of parole-I’ve got 14 months left. I successfully completed the parole for my bank robberies and I expect to successfully finish this one. I won’t smoke now, but come December 27, 2005, I am going to roll a fucking joint the size of a bus and I’ll kill it in one drag.”
All Images and associated text from Jeffrey A. Wolin || Photography. 2015. Jeffrey A. Wolin || Photography. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.jeffreywolin.com. [Accessed 04 March 2015].