In this photographer’s studio window in Savannah, Georgia, there are fifteen blocks of fifteen pictures each, for a total of 225 portraits, less the ones hidden by the letters. Most of the sitters appear at least twice, but altogether there are more than one hundred different men, women, and children: a community.
Evans explored the United States of the 1930s—its people, its architecture, and its cultural symbols (including its photographs)—with the disinterested eye of an archaeologist studying an ancient civilization. Penny Picture Display, Savannah might be interpreted as a celebration of democracy or as a condemnation of conformity. Evans took no side.
The photograph is very much a modern picture—crisp, planar, and resolutely self-contained. But instead of reconfirming a timeless ideal, as artistically ambitious American photographers before Evans generally had aimed to do, it captures a very particular and contemporary moment, rooted in history. And it announces Evans’s allegiance to the plainspoken vernacular of ordinary photographers, such as the portraitist who made the pictures in this window.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)