Front / Recto

  • Title Votive Candles, New York City
  • Negative Date 1929–30
  • Print Date 1929–39
  • Medium Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions Image 8 1/2 x 6 15/16" (21.6 x 17.7 cm)
    Mount 8 1/2 × 6 15/16" (21.6 × 17.7 cm)
  • Place Taken New York
  • Credit Line Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Willard Van Dyke and Mr. and Mrs. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., by exchange
  • MoMA Accession Number 1667.2001
  • Copyright © 2015 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Description

    Like many American artists of his generation, Walker Evans made a pilgrimage to Paris, in 1926 and 1927, with the ambition of becoming a great modernist writer. However, when he returned to New York in May 1927, he had all but abandoned this pursuit and was earnestly learning to use a camera to photograph his adopted city. Early pictures of urban subjects, taken from unconventionally high and low vantage points, demonstrate the young photographer’s astute awareness of the leading practitioners at the time, including László Moholy-Nagy and Aleksandr Rodchenko.  

    In late 1929 or early 1930 Evans met Berenice Abbott, who had just purchased a large collection of negatives and prints made by the recently deceased French photographer Eugène Atget. Even at this early stage in his photographic career, Evans was able to discern Atget’s “lyrical understanding of the street, trained observation of it, special feeling for patina, eye for revealing detail.”[1] The Surrealists, in the years preceding, had aligned Atget’s documents of deserted Parisian streets and storefronts with their own vision of the city as a palimpsest of potential meanings, and Evans’s exploration of a similar idiom would qualify him as an important American counterpart to Surrealism—his photographs were featured in two significant exhibitions in New York: Documentary and Anti-Graphic Photographs by Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans and Alvarez Bravo, at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1935, and Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, at The Museum of Modern Art in 1936.

    It was around the time he met Abbott that Evans took this picture of hanging votives, a kind of religious offering, on or near South Street in Manhattan. The inscription on the back of the print indicates that he encountered them during the “Fete of San Rocco,” an Italian festival that usually took place in early August near Saint Joachim’s Church on Roosevelt Street (neither the church nor the street exists today). Evans photographed the store’s sign using both 35mm and 2 ½ by 4 ¼ inch (6.4 by 11.4 centimeter) medium-format film. For this print he enlarged and cropped one of the medium-format negatives to exclude information along the edges, such as pedestrian heads at the bottom and an American flag at the top.

    Unlike other American photographers in this period, particularly the dogmatic Edward Weston and Group f/64, Evans did not champion the unadulterated contact print; rather, he used enlarging and cropping to focus on seemingly insignificant details. The tight crop on this print produces a found montage of pictorial and textual signs, one of Surrealism’s hallmarks, by extracting everyday objects from their surrounding environment. The juxtaposition of typography with dismembered body parts, pre-dating Hans Bellmer’s photographs of dolls, becomes a clever exploration of modernist dualisms: the body and the mind, the physical and the psychological, and the irrational and the rational. For both Evans and the Surrealists, even the most ordinary things, once dislodged from their usual contexts, could become extraordinary.

    —Hanako Murata, Drew Sawyer

    [1] Walker Evans, “The Reappearance of Photography,” Hound and Horn (October–December 1931): 126. The article is a review of several recent photography books, including Atget, photographe de Paris (Paris: Henri Jonquières; New York: E. Weyhe, 1930).

Back / Verso

  • Mount Type Mount (original)
  • Marks and Inscriptions Inscribed in black ink on mount verso, center: WAX EX-VOTO IMAGES/EAST SIDE, FETE OF SAN ROCCO/ITALIAN [line drawn in pencil connects EAST SIDE and ITALIAN]. Inscribed in pencil on mount verso, center: N.Y.C. Signed in pencil on mount verso, bottom center: Walker Evans. Inscribed in pencil on mount verso, bottom right: TW 890901.
  • Provenance The artist; to Bobbi Carrey, Boston [1]; to Brent Sikkema Fine Art, New York [2]; purchased by Thomas Walther, September 1989 [3]; purchased by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001.
    [1] MacGill/Walther 2001(3), p. 6.
    [2] Ibid.
    [3] Brent Sikkema Fine Art invoice no. 496, September 23, 1989, annotated with Thomas Walther archival no. TW 890901.


  • Surface Sheen Semireflective
  • Techniques Mount
    Retouching (additive)
    Retouching (reductive)
  • PTM
    Detail view of the recto of the artwork made using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) software, which exaggerates subtle surface details and renders the features of the artwork plainly visible. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Micro-raking
    Raking-light close-up image, as shot. Area of detail is 6.7 x 6.7 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
    Raking-light close-up image, processed. Processing included removal of color, equalization of the histogram, and sharpening, all designed to enhance visual comparison. Department of Conservation, MoMA

Paper Material

  • Format Imperial
  • UV Fluorescence Recto negative
    Verso no data
  • Fiber Analysis No fiber data available
  • Material Techniques Developing-out paper
  • XRF

    This work was determined to be a gelatin silver print via X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry.

    The following elements have been positively identified in the work, through XRF readings taken from its recto and verso (or from the mount, where the verso was not accessible):

    • Recto: Al, P, S, K, Ca, Zn, Br, Sr, Ag, Ba
    • Verso or mount: not available

    The graphs below show XRF spectra for three areas on the print: two of the recto—from areas of maximum and minimum image density (Dmax and Dmin)—and one of the verso or mount. The background spectrum represents the contribution of the XRF instrument itself. The first graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the lower energy range (0 to 8 keV). The second graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the higher energy range (8 to 40 keV).

    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Al, P, S, K, Ca, Ag, Ba
    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Zn, Br, Sr, Ag

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