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Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch Hardcover – 20 October 2020

4.5 out of 5 stars 26 ratings

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Review

Svetlana Alpers's new volume Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch provokes a number of relevant questions, for both students of photography and devotees of the author. . . . The result is unfailingly interesting. . . . [Alpers's] flair for speculative reasoning is on full display, as ever, and the disarming naturalness of her prose makes her explorations seem approachable. . . . [The book is] a demonstration of what one kind of intelligence seeks to make of another.

---Douglas R. Nickel, Art Bulletin

A fresh consideration of Evans's pictures. . . .[and] an engaging series of case studies.---Brian Sholis, Aperture

[A] brilliant scholar of Dutch painting's take on an artist whose work has moved and inspired me for years.---Ayad Akhtar, Elle.com

Svetlana Alpers's biography takes a chronological approach to the life of an artist...But before the text explores Walker's aspirations, tastes, travels, career highs and love of the written word, the reader is presented with an uninterrupted 143 full-page reproductions of Evans's photographs -- an invitation to appraise the work before engaging with the man.-- "Christie's"

Starting From Scratch is well researched, and Alpers's heavily quotational approach provides the reader a wealth of material from Evans's letters, lectures, published texts, and personal writings.---Rahel Aima, The Nation

A welcome addition...[Walker Evans] is finely tuned and thoroughly researched, carving out a unique space by focusing on Evans's lifelong emphasis on the art of seeing...Highlighting groundbreaking cultural events, artists, and historical moments, including both world wars, the 1960s, and multiple cultural renaissances throughout Europe and the US, Alpers energetically writes about the people, places, and events that were continuous sources of influence and inspiration for Evans...Highly recommended.-- "Choice"

Her whole book is really suffused with her emotional involvement in the subject and I think it's so warm and sympathetic, and really a wonderful biography.---Joyce Carol Oates, Times Literary Supplement Podcast

Alpers's interest in the 'unique' work of Walker Evans is an interest in the 'making' of the photographs rather than in their interpretation: her approach is slow, patient, fastidious, detail-oriented, appreciative and illuminating. . . . It is really Starting from Scratch that is a 'unique' work: a close reading of classic photographs by a discerning eye (Alpers's) that conjoins the instructional with the intimate, the scholarship of the historian with the candour of the memoirist. . . . A brilliant and, indeed, thrilling final chapter . . . considers the phenomenon of 'late style' as it relates to artists other than Walker Evans---Joyce Carol Oates, Times Literary Supplement

Insightful.---Stuart Mitchner, Town Topics

[A] learned, suggestive, and handsome work. Alpers studies Evans's work employing the techniques used to critique paintings: by assessing how he framed his scenes, in the light of his printed statements and off-the-cuff remarks. Her most illuminating is the theme of detail. She focuses on what Evans focused on.---Allen D. Boyer, The Key Reporter

[A] superb book.---Richard Meyer, Artforum

Svetlana Alpers' book on Walker Evans begins, after a half title page, with reproductions of 143 of Evans' photographs . . . a silently eloquent way to say: the pictures come first. . . . Alpers focuses on [Evans's] profound connection to French culture, literary in the first place . . . and then photographic . . . to show how 'Evans always viewed his country as if from the outside and often with an ironic eye'.---Barry Schwabsky, Tourniquereview.com

[Walker Evans is] a fresh, scholarly look--complete with more than 200 images--at the seminal American photographer, this time through the lens of fine art and literature. In a lavishly illustrated narrative bolstered by impassioned research, art historian Alpers reintroduces readers to Walker Evans (1903-1975), one of America's great artistic observers . . . Alpers convincingly presents him as a new kind of poet. . . . Great American photography in a welcome new frame-- "Kirkus Reviews"

[In Walker Evans, Svetlana Alpers] takes a vivid, fresh look at the remarkable photographer whose well-known work on cities and on American rural poverty resonates today. But there is much more to see, and say. Many of the 143 plates will not be familiar, and Alpers interprets them in the context of international literature and art, inviting 'those who don't know Evans [to] discover his greatness, ' and ranking photographic achievement with literature and painting of the highest quality.-- "Harvard Magazine"

In Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch, art historian Svetlana Alpers explores the prominent 20th century documentary photographer's work and creative process. Though one might usually consider photography to be a graphic art like painting, Alpers examines Evans' love of text and the relationship between his images and works by writers including Flaubert, Baudelaire, and Faulkner, making the compelling case that literature is at the heart of his work. The book features 170 of Evans's photos, but the main reason to get Starting from Scratch is to learn more about the artist's way of seeing the world and rediscover his work with fresh eyes.-- "Photo Life Magazine"

In this extensive and detailed biography... the reader is presented with a new perspective on Walker Evans's work, rendering the presumed familiar unfamiliar in a decidedly nuanced and enjoyable way.-- "ARLIS/NA Reviews"

This 213-page book provides depth and breadth about Evans' work. Readers . . . who are curious about what drove Walker Evans to create, and to learn about what influenced him and what distinguishes him from other 20th Century photographers as it evolved will no doubt enjoy Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch. ---Caryn Hoffman, Picture this Post

Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch by Svetlana Alpers is an entire semester in one volume. . . . Her analysis of Evans' artistic life will not disappoint. . . . This biography affectionately reads like a lecture series, with professor Alpers nudging students to close-read the 143 black/white Evans photos conveniently placed at the book's beginning.---Jean Bundy, Anchorage Press

A comprehensive study. . . . Alpers shows how Evans's approach differed both from that of other photographers and from conventional assumptions about photography. . . . Intriguing interpretations of Evans's photos and work process, for both specialists and general readers.-- "Library Journal"

About the Author

Svetlana Alpers is professor emerita of history of art at the University of California, Berkeley, and a visiting scholar in art history at New York University. Her many books include The Art of Describing, The Vexations of Art, and Roof Life. She lives in New York City and France.
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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Princeton University Press (20 October 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 416 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0691195870
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0691195872
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 16.51 x 4.06 x 23.88 cm
  • Customer reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 26 ratings

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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L. Spencer
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully researched and informative
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 24 December 2020
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Vincent Doherty
5.0 out of 5 stars Important introduction to an important subject
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 22 April 2021
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Bruno Wollheim
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and well-written book about a brilliant and fascinating photographer
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 10 March 2021
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Buecherwurm
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Reviewed in France on 8 July 2021
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JCF
5.0 out of 5 stars Mieux q'une biographie
Reviewed in France on 15 July 2021
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