At once a splendid coffee table book and an impressive work of original scholarship, "Walker Evans: Lyric Documentary," by John T. Hill, has much to please nearly everyone. The duotone black and white reproductions are sumptuous, among the finest I have seen. They illustrate Evans' seminal production during the years 1935-36, photographing for the US Government's Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. Their selection, presented in chronological order, is a fine mix of the familiar - many of Evans' greatest images - with lesser known works and variants. Of particular interest to me is a plate comprised of two consecutive exposures that the author has joined together into a powerful panorama (pp. 158-59), a risky move that he manages in bravura fashion.
John T. Hill has written, co-written, or edited, to my count, at least nine books and catalogs on Walker Evans, including "Walker Evans First and Last," "Walker Evans At Work," "Walker Evans The Hungry Eye," "Walker Evans Simple Secrets," and "Walker Evans: Havana 1933." As Evans' friend and colleague for ten years at Yale University, and then as executor of Evans' estate for twenty years, John Hill is uniquely qualified to discuss the photographer and his work. And as a printer of Evans' photographs for nearly forty years, Mr. Hill possesses a thorough understanding of this photographer's oeuvre and intentions.
John Hill's two essays - one on an unpublished lecture Evans gave at Yale, illustrating what the photographer called his "aesthetic autobiography," and the other a short history of Evans' book publications within the context of their times - are important additions to Evans scholarship. Additionally, Alan Trachtenberg has provided an illustrated essay comparing the image selection and sequencing of the two major editions (1941 and 1960) of Evans' and James Agee's "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men."
Of the countless books and articles that have been written about Evans in the thirty-plus years since his death, "Walker Evans: Lyric Documentary" is among the best. It is one of a few that I would classify as an essential Walker Evans book.
Kingston is the author of "Walker Evans In Print: An Illustrated Bibliography."