I recently got hold of a copy of Walker Evans American Photographs and have just reread Lincoln Kirstein’s essay. I have long admired Evans’ work and he is someone to whom I expect I will continue to return.
A couple of points occur to me in connection with this book and the course material.
Firstly I do not know why Kirstein says “you will search in vain for an angle -shot”. Unless he means something that is different from what I would regard as an angle-shot, the second part of the book in particular is full of them! Yes, Evans’ default mode is the full frontal view but not to the exclusion of other visual approaches.
Secondly I am puzzled by the comment in the course material that”there seems to be a clear distinction between cropping and framing in Evans’ work”. Perhaps I am missing something here but I simply do not see that.
By “framing” I understand the use of compositional elements to give an image form, to identify, for example, the main subject and those elements that are subsidiary. Framing effectively shows you what to look at and what you are looking at. Sometimes that can be done by using what is clearly a frame within the overall frame of the image. There are various examples of this in American Photographs, such as the pictures on pages 5 and 7.
Cropping on the other hand is the removal of parts of the original image, removing extraneous detail or to change the emphasis of the picture. Cropping can be useful where, for example, it has not been possible to frame the photo properly at the time it was taken. Cropping is one of the few functions that I use with any degree of regularity in Photoshop.
One of the most striking uses of a crop that I can think of is Nick Ut’s 1972 Vietnam war photo of Kim Phuc burned by napalm. The image we are used to seeing now is a cropped version of a picture that originally showed a much wider scene and more people, including soldiers and other photographers. There is no doubt that the cropped image is much stronger.
Coming back to my puzzlement, unless you can compare an image with an earlier version, how can you tell whether a photo has been cropped. I cannot in all honesty look at any of Evans’ work and say with any degree of certainty or confidence that it has been cropped. There are plenty that might have been but I do not know. And I do not get any sense from the work that there is such a distinction.
Looking back at my own work to date, I am not at all sure that the less successful pictures look cropped. What I see is more a straightforward failure of the original composition.
The reference to Victor Burgin is unfortunately not very helpful as I do not have access to this particular article. Taken out of context I am not sure what Burgin is really saying. As a result I also do not fully understand the point that is being made about Stieglitz. (Same problem with Foster as I have not been able yet to look at a copy of his book.) Yes, in the absence of any sense of composition the image only takes form by reference to the frame. This is perhaps the photographic equivalent of Turrell’s work. I do not though get any sense of cropping in the sense above. To help me with this I tried a Stieglitz-like ‘Equivalent’ of my own:
This is a patch of gravel in my garden. As with the Stieglitz there is no sense of any composition. Any one part of the patch of gravel could stand for any other. The image, like a Skyscape, is given form simply by pointing a camera at it. The edges of the picture, the frame, create the image. There has been no cropping and I do not get any sense of a cropped view.
Clearly I need to do more work on these concepts as I am evidently missing something!
Evans, W, (2016). American Photographs. New York: The Museum of Modern Art