W. o’ W.: Walker Evans

“I guess I’m the only survivor of my age of the school of non-commercial and extremely self-virtuous young artists that I was when I was your age. We wouldn’t do anything we were asked to do, and we fought around it. Of course that kills most people. For some reason or other it didn’t kill me. And I feel that since I’ve progressed rather slowly, I still have a long career ahead of me.

“Part of a photographer’s gift should be with people. You can do some wonderful work if you know how to make people understand what you’re doing and feel all right about it, and you can do terrible work if you put them on the defense, which they all are at the beginning. You’ve got to take them off their defensive attitude and make them participate.

“If you’re going to start to do something you’re going to have setbacks bringing it to fruition. Any venture is a rocky road. Your education is, too.

“I knew a whole lot of things—I can see now in retrospect—instinctively and unconsciously, and that goes along with a theory of mine: that almost all good artists are being worked through with forces that they’re not quite aware of. They are transmitters of sensitivities that they’re not aware of having, of forces that are in the air at the time. I’ve done a lot of things that I’m surprised at now which show a lot of knowledge that I didn’t have or knew I had. I can now learn something from my own pictures.

“Privilege, if you’re very strict, is an immoral and unjust thing to have, but if you’ve got it you didn’t choose to get it and you might as well use it… you know you’re under an obligation to repay what’s been put into you.

“When I first made photographs, they were too plain to be considered art and I wasn’t considered an artist. I didn’t get any attention at all. The people who looked at my work thought, well, that’s just a snapshot of the backyard. Privately I knew otherwise and through stubbornness stayed with it.

“When you take pictures some kind of change occurs. There’s something different between your photographs and if you went to that place and looked at it with the naked eye, and I was wondering—you must have reflected on this, just haven taken all those photographs—what effect your mind has when you make the conscious decision to push the button.

“I got a lot of my early momentum from disdain of accepted ideas of beauty, and that’s partly good, it’s partly original. It’s also partly destructive.  I wasn’t a very nice young man. I was tearing down everything if possible. I only see that in retrospect. It was just in me, as there are certain curious things in you that you’ll wonder at, later on when you’re my age, but you won’t ever get to the bottom of.

“I’m rather suspicious of hanging a picture in a gallery. I cut out remarkable pictures from the daily press all the time.

“I happen to be a gray man; I’m not a black-and-white man. I think gray is truer. You find that in other fields. E. M. Forster’s prose is gray and it’s marvelous.

“Art can’t be taught, but it can be stimulated and a few barriers can be kicked down by a talented teacher, and an atmosphere can be created which is an opening into artistic action. But the thing itself is such a secret and so unapproachable.”

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