Oliver Richon’s essay on Walker Evans’ ‘Carey Ross’s Bedroom, is less of a read of a photograph and more of a read of the photographer.
Right off the bat I want to admit I had a hard time following this essay. Richon frequently references quotes in their argument which when using sparingly and with context can be useful but her obfuscate the point they are raising.
Bouncing backwards and forwards throughout the essay between reading the image, Walker’s work in general and the writing of several different sources is, I found, to be confusing and meandering, making the relatively short essay difficult concentratee non and conceptualise as a whole.
However, I feel that point of this essay is to effective reframe the perception of Evans’ work.
Often thought of as a documentary photographer in the traditional sense of making a photographic representation of something seen, Richon here is arguing for the influence of Flaubert on Evans’ oeuvre. Likening the similarities of Flaubert’s focus of detail in description with Evans’ apparent detail of representation.
Taking cues from Evans’ admitted admiration of Flaubert’s writing coupled with his methodical practice and list making, Richon is describing Evans as artist in the ‘style’ of documentary as a genre, rather than the typically understood ‘journalistic’ documenter.
Richon highlights that in ‘Cary Ross’s Bedroom’ there is the very apparent repetition of objects within the frame, akin to ‘mise en abyme’. The practice of an image containing copies of itself within it’s frame. Showing, according to Richon, the awareness of Evans’ in constructing an image which plays on the practice, utilises to create narrative and ultimate reflecting his own artistic practice and acumen.
Whilst I do agree that Evans’ photograph does contain these aspects, along with the others Richon mentions such as when referencing Barthes and ‘Punctum’ or his description of detail within description a luxury which doesn’t drive the plot. I do however question the description of Evans as a cold clinical surgeon. One who ‘cuts’ from the world when framing the image.
It is easy to assume that a man such as Evans’ list making and practiced, is detached in that way but then why include ‘Cary Ross’s Bedroom’ in a series which juxtaposes it against other homely images of a kitchen and cottage which are so drastically different in their perceptions? We see a highly controlled environment which is filled, as Richon rightly points out, with objects of modernisation and modern production, multiplied and duplicated as if straight from a catalogue photograph. These are stark in contrast against the rustic and rural feel of the kitchen and cottage. Their ramshackle ness highlighting both a different age but also a different social status. Evans’ here is not showing the objectivity of a clinician but rather a somewhat scathing assessment of modernity. The loss of individuality and identity on the face of capitalism and fashion.
Richon does also bring up some other interesting ideas in this essay. Discussion around the idea that it is only in the photograph that the objects carry connotation. By photographing them we infuse that ‘copy’ with the meaning or intent. Then there is the question of what is a photography itself, a copy of the object? A simile? the object itself? A twin? or a stand in for it’s owner/creator? So many different potentials and perspectives to consider but I think in naming the image, Evans’ has linked the scene with it’s owner purposefully
Perhaps by providing the name of the owner of this bedroom is to highlight the people who lead this change?
I feel that rather than being an internal image, one which does work as such, it is elevated by its partners yet Richon here is looking at in in solitude and rather than creating their own individual reading of the image heavily referencing the influences of Evans’ as if to seek him in their work. In a sense, I feel Richon falls victim to his own quote “I know how to see and see as the short-sighted do”.
Essentially the connotation in this statement is that the short sighted position is so focused on the detail the short-sighted observer fails to look beyond the frame.
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