Walker Evans’ American Photographs is one of those seminal photobooks that belongs on every photographer’s bookshelf, full stop. There’s not much more to say about it, really.
The copy in my collection is from the third printing of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary edition, (c) 2012, published by The Museum of Modern Art, and printed in duotone offset from digital files and bound in Italy by Trifolio in 2016. It matches, as closely as possible, the original 1938 edition, preserving the order and original introduction, while also taking advantage of the latest in digital archiving and reproduction techniques.
If you go looking for a copy of American Photographs, this edition gets high marks. It’s beautifully printed, and just a pleasure to sit and flip through, slowly, savoring each exquisite frame.
An often-quoted paragraph from Lincoln Kirstein’s original introduction bears repeating, I think, as it captures beautifully what Evans left us.
…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 ot our moment. And Evans’ work has, in addition, intention, logic, continuity, climax, sense and perfection.*
Looking at American Photographs 80 years after the fact, I occasionally find myself looking at the historical elements in the picture, rather than looking at the picture itself, but Evans’ work more often just looks like America, as much as Robert Frank’s The Americans, Stephen Shore’s American Surfaces, Lee Friedlander’s The American Monument, or Joel Sternfeld’s American Prospects, and it’s no wonder that all of these cite Evans as an influence.
From the framing and timing, to the printing, to the sequencing, Evans nailed it all. Get yourself a copy. You won’t regret it.
*Kerstein, Lincoln. “Photographs of America: Walker Evans.” In Walker Evans, American Photographs: Seventy Fifth Anniversary Edition. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2016. p. 195.