Postcards

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Walker Evans: A Gallery of Postcards

I got this curiosity recently— an aluminum box filled with a small number of postcards, made by Walker Evans as a promotion for the Museum of Modern Art in 1936. At the time, he shelved the idea but it was released in 2000 to amplify the sort of hysteria that surrounds Evans:

Like a poet refining an idea word by word, Evans often clarified and intensified the meanings of his pictures by trimming his prints just slightly to present the leanest possible image. With the postcards he took that impulse to another level. Evans was a master of the edge and one of the medium’s greatest precisionists. . . . The postcard prints are superb examples of this philosophy, framing as they do virtually new and often “better” pictures from the photographs that already attested to Evans’ meticulous eye.

Jeff L. Rosenheim, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The essay accompanying the box shows the usual idolatry without providing much in the way of useful information. It says nothing about the fact that Evans collected postcards and found signs and objects, so obviously making his own version of these artifacts was hardly a stretch. It fails to mention that he also frequently trimmed his negatives with scissors to make sure that they were printed correctly at the FSA, a practice that annoyed the archivists there. There is little of interest in the “edge” manipulation of the examples presented, and only a couple of the photographs present singular details— the scenes pictured are hardly fragmentary in any way, and entirely in step with his visual approach of copious tiny parts that present a coherent whole. Actually, they are nearly indistinguishable from any of his other work, regardless of the technique or size.

I suspect that the real value of these 3x5 artifacts is that they demonstrate conclusively a sort of fractal self-similarity with his entire body of work, neither amplifying nor detracting from it. They are just Evans postcards, no more clear or ambiguous than any of his work, neither “better” or less important— they merely demonstrate the coherence of his decision making.