Task 3 – Visual Language, Photographers who use text

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.

Jim Goldberg

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.”

NYC30010My wife is acceptable. Our relationship is satisfactory”

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!”

NYC46979“I keep thinking where we went wrong.

We have no one to talk to now,
however, I will not allow this loneliness to destroy me

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.”

Images from Magnum Photos and Zoltan Okay

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.

 Jeff Wolin

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”.


Larry, Darlene, Chris & Larry Jr., Pigeon Hill, 1989
“When I learned Larry had molested my daughters, Vicki and Trish, I checked the .357 in my boot. I drove 100 mph from Martinsville where I worked to Bloomington Hospital where they took Trish. Then I drove to the gas station where Larry worked but the sheriff was already there and he was arrested. Judge Dixon gave Larry 5 years but he got out in 2 1/2.”

Darlene, Buck + Zeke, Spring Street, 2012
“Buck and I have been together for 21 years—we don’t even argue any more. We got Buck’s daughter, Lacey, out of Owen County Jail when she was 4 months pregnant with Zeke and put her up until she could get back on her feet. When Zeke was 6 days old, Lacey went drinking with her friends and didn’t return. Buck and I love raising Zeke and wouldn’t change a thing.”


Wendi Pemberton, Pigeon Hill, 1990
“I was only four when I saw my first stabbing—a drug deal gone bad. I knew I had to be tough just to survive on Pigeon Hill. My mom was a nurse but she got into drugs and left when I was nine. Odds were I’d have a kid by the time I was fifteen, like many of my friends. But I dind’t want that’I wanted to get off the Hill.”


Wendi Pemberton, Ellettsville, 2012
“I live out in the country with my husband, Luke, and sometimes my daughter. She has a more protected childhood than I did. I’m employed as a Water Quality Engineer at the Indiana American Water Plant in Terre Haute—it’s a 54.4 mile commute from home to work each way. I’ve taken up drag racing on the weekends in a car Luke built for me.”
Wolin’s images of Holocaust survivors have even more text in the images.With simple portraits of the subject and their stories as a backdrop.
1 7 9
Lastly his series “Inconvenience Stores : Vietnam War Veterans” have a lengthy narrative that is presented separately to the image. This gives a different impact than the combined image and photograph and of course a more complete picture of the individual than a snippet of text.
1VW“The first time I saw a dead American, there were three of them-their heads were up on stakes. It was in ‘D’ zone, not too far from Bien Hoa. The enemy was doing that to scare us. Of course, it didn’t scare us; it made us angry. It made me angry. By this time I was lost in the jungle. I was alone. I was AWOL-I weighed 112 pounds; they wanted me to hump a spare barrel of an M60 machine gun. I had just gotten out of the hospital two weeks before with appendicitis. I’m thinking, ‘I’m not in shape. I can’t do this job. I’m leaving!’ I ran off and then I stopped. ‘What in the hell are you doing? You’ve never been in the jungle before!’ By this time it was too late. I was lost, separated from my unit. That’s when I ran across the heads. I found the individuals that did it. I heard them down the hill by the river and there was one over where the heads were and he was masturbating. I was going to try to take him prisoner but I stumbled and I stabbed him accidentally with the bayonet. Once I did that I had to kill him. And when the other two came up I shot them both and I cut off their heads. Some of the guys from the 101st Airborne used to call me ‘head-hunter.’ At first I did it because I was enraged but then it was a way to score points-that’s how you were esteemed by your peers. It didn’t bother me back then. But now I don’t sleep more than 15-20 minutes at a time and then I wake up with nightmares and chills and sweats. I walk the perimeter at night. But that’s my cross to bear. I see children when you’ve killed their parents-you hear them crying. I proudly endured that I stood my post; I did what was expected of me. My fellow paratroopers respected me despite the fact that I was a fuck-up in the rear. In the boonies I did my job. Today I have to suffer with that. No big deal. Thank you very much for your tax dollars-the VA pays for it. Georgie-boy, when he came in as president, they started cutting our benefits. I’m at 150% disability: 100% for PTSD; 30% for diabetes; 10% for erectile dysfunction and 10% for organic brain damage. I’m in pain all the time but you get used to it. They give me medication but it doesn’t work. What does help is marijuana but the sons of bitches won’t let me have it. I don’t want no more drugs. They want to give me codeine, heavy narcotics, but that counteracts the Viagra and I’d rather have a hard-on and endure the pain than just be a fucking zombie… Here we are in the middle of the night-it’s drizzling-me, Doc Wheatfield, a guy we called Cherry, John Wekerly, and some others. We go and there’s a girl lying under a huge banyan tree. The only other one there is a little boy. She’s pregnant, about to deliver a baby. We break out our ponchos and Doc Wheatfield gets underneath and delivers the baby. We felt responsible for the baby. Doc asks one of the guys to get some fruit from the C-rations. I said, ‘Doc, no one’s going to give up their fruit.’ Doc was a Christian man. He said, ‘Oh, ye of little faith.’ The guys came back with a big sack full of canned fruits. We gave her whatever we had in money and fruit. And then a mama-san arrived and first she looked at us real mean like ‘you murdering bastards.’ But then she saw the food, money, the baby was fine, the little shelter we had built and she came and stood in front of us and she bowed. It was raining, like I said, but when the baby came out there was a clap of thunder and it stopped raining and the baby cried out. You could hear it in the whole valley. We were so proud and so happy and some of us were crying. As soon as we started to leave, here comes the rain again. We were walking along a rice paddy, standing out like a sore thumb if there was a sniper on the hill, especially when the lightning flashed. There was a herd of water buffalo and someone says, ‘Look at that deformed cow!’ It was a cow having a calf. People from ranches will tell you this: a bull knows its babies and will allow the mother to have a calf but other bulls don’t give a damn. So here we are in the middle of the rain holding hands in a circle around this cow while Doc Wheatfield is helping deliver that calf. We went over there as regular kids doing a tough job. Some of us lost our way. We did bad things when we were required to but at the same time when it came to helping the innocent, we helped. We were noble. Our hearts were good and those good hearts got wounded. After the war we were treated disrespectfully. We were persecuted. In the ’70’s over 30% of federal prison inmates were Vietnam veterans. I was one of them. On Mother’s Day, my father, Benito Garcia, a police officer, arrested me for robbing banks. In 18 days I robbed 6 banks in Chicago. I’d go in with a .25 automatic pistol with .22 ammunition-I didn’t even have a gun that shot. I was not very good at it. Then I hung up my guns and picked up the books while in prison. In 16 months I received my Associates degree in Secondary Education from Vincennes University. I earned enough credits for a Bachelors degree from Indiana University in Sociology. In prison I felt comfortable because I know how to be in a society of macho men. I was always alert, always tense. I could deal with that environment-it was the jungle with steel bars. I could function there; I couldn’t function out here-it’s still difficult. I served 6 years, 1 week active military service and 6 years, 3 months in prison. I got my degree; I was released and I was everybody’s success story. Harry Porterfield did a 30 minute segment on me for the CBS Chicago affiliate.

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].

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Steve Edwards

March 2015

This entry was posted in Visual Language, Windows on the World.

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