Digitally produced prints of classic photographs by Walker Evans, among them “Roadside Stand Near Birmingham” (1936), are now on display at the UBS Art Gallery in New York, raising some basic issues about the nature of photography.
Walker Evans. Or Is It?
A PHOTOGRAPHER snaps a picture. If it’s a camera with film, a negative is made; if it’s a digital camera, a file is produced. A printer, in a dark room using chemicals, or at a computer screen, can tinker with the image, crop it, enlarge it, make it lighter or darker, highlight one part or obscure another.
In other words, the image produced by the camera, whether it’s a negative or a digital file, is only the matrix for the work of art. It is not the work itself, although if the photographer is a journalist, any hanky-panky in the printing process comes at the potential cost of the picture’s integrity. Digital technology has not introduced manipulation into this universe; it has only multiplied the opportunities for mischief.
I dawdle over this familiar ground because the digitally produced prints of classic Walker Evans photographs, now at the UBS Art Gallery, are so seductive and luxurious — velvety, full of rich detail, poster-size in a few cases and generally cinematic — that they raise some basic issues about the nature of photography.