Svetlana Alpers’s Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch

December 2020

The first 143 pages of Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch (Princeton), Svetlana Alpers’s new book, are given over to full-page reproductions of Evans’s photographs. No preface, set of acknowledgments, or copyright page precedes or interrupts the pictures. Even captions have been swept off the page. (They appear in list form after the plates.) Alpers asks us, quite literally, to look before we read. Her book’s layout mirrors that of American Photographs (1938) and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), but it also embodies her commitment to the primacy of photographic looking and making.

Alpers’s forthright style of writing matches that of Evans’s photography. Neither engages in rhetorical excess or showboating. Discussing Corrugated Tin Façade, 1936, she writes, “Keep in mind his taste for tin. It was a humble American material and it attracted Evans’s eye. But its beauty here, as

— Richard Meyer

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