American Photographs

I’ve long been a fan of Walker Evans, and in particular his 1938 book ‘American Photographs’ and there is a well-thumbed copy of the 50th anniversary edition published by the Museum of Modern Art (who published the first edition) in 1988. That edition “with new duotone plates from the original prints” aimed to recreate the design and typography of the original “as precisely as possible”, and was I think rather an improvement on the original in terms of the quality of the printed images.

25 years on, we have the “75th anniversary edition of American Photographs, reissued by the Museum of Modern Art in an edition that recaptures, for the first time since its original release, what might be called the book’s radical purity.” I’m not sure that it differs in this respect from the edition I have .

The original was printed in 5000 copies, with an elegant cloth binding (Evans called it ‘Bible cloth’) and with various small touches that are no longer possibly in a reasonably priced edition. Printing technology has of course changed completely from the 1930s letterpress, also used for the second and rather different edition of 1962.

You can read more about the book and see 18 of the 87 images from the book (the MoMA show the original accompanied had 100 pictures) in a piece on the TIME LightBox by Ben Cosgrove.  Many of the best-known images by Evans were taken when he was working for the FSA, and you can see them on the Library of Congress web site, including the two albums of prints made when working with James Agee on another book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.  Many of his images on the LoC site now seem to be very poorly scanned from ‘intermediary roll film’ reproductions, but there are still over 40 decent high res scans available from the original negatives, so you can try making your own prints of his images.

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