Tod Papageorge has been the director of Graduate Study in Photography at the Yale School of Art since 1979. This essay is an inspired reading of Frank's indebtedness to Evans, "a debt so profound that . . . we can observe not only the influence, but the way in which a brilliant young photographer embraced and comprehended a masterpiece."
Frank (right) by: Richard Avedon
Frank has always been upfront about Evans' influence on his work but, as Papageorge writes, that acknowledgment has mostly been ignored:
Although, since The Americans was published, Frank has consistently stated that Walker Evans . . . was the photographer who most influenced his work, the few writers who have discussed the two men in relation to one another generally have done so by setting them in a Manichaean opposition. In this equation, Evans, on the side of the angels, is seen as a moralist whose work unequivocally accepts and elevates the raw material of vernacular American culture, while Frank, in the devil's party, is seen as the photographic equivalent of Rimbaud — an anarchic poet who sings one brutal song, and then, in despair and exaltation, or whatever joy is found in conjunction with the creation of something incomparable, denies his gift by rejecting it. That the sorrowing world Frank's book describes has been set against Evans' lightstruck community, where, in at least a casual reading, everything possesses the clear gorgeousness of achieved fact, is unsurprising. But the suggestion that the two photographers are related only because they share the same general subject ignores the particular debt that The Americans owes to American Photographs, and, with that, disregards the most subtle triumphs of Frank's book, its transformation of Evans' vision.
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