Walker Evans, American Photographs (1938)
Everyone should own this book. It’s that simple. This was the book that confirmed the indissoluble expressive potential of a suite of images, accompanying the Museum’s first one-person photography exhibition. One particularly memorable passage in Lincoln Kirstein’s accompanying text begins, “After looking at these pictures with all their clear, hideous and beautiful detail, their open insanity and pitiful grandeur, compare this vision of a continent as it is, not as it might be or as it was, with any other coherent vision that we have had since the war. What poet has said as much? What painter has shown as much? Only newspapers, the writers of popular music, the technicians of advertising and radio have in their blind energy accidentally, fortuitously, evoked for future historians such a powerful monument to our moment. And Evans’ work has, in addition, intention, logic, continuity, climax, sense and perfection….” (For more on Kirstein’s history as a collector and advocate of modern photography, you can read the catalogue of the recent exhibition Lincoln Kirstein’s Modern.) American Photographs remains a central touchstone and is the point of departure for Gallery 520 at MoMA, titled Picturing America, which will be on view when the Museum is able to reopen.