September 17, 2014

Looking at Art

This small, exquisite photograph offers a glimpse into the four-room home of tenant farmers Floyd and Allie Mae Burroughs in Gainsboro, Ala. It was taken by Walker Evans in the summer of 1936 while he was working with James Agee for Fortune magazine. Though he'd photographed the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Evans spent much of his career focusing on lives less visible but no less complicated. With this photo, he validates an elusive life defined by simple pleasures.

The image is endlessly provocative as much for what it reveals as what it conceals. The view through the doorway into the sparsely furnished kitchen communicates a respect for neatness and cleanliness. Cropping the photo to show the home's wood construction adds warmth to a scene that otherwise might seem cold in its austere crispness.

Details mattered to Evans, and he included enough to communicate the simplicity of the home's furnishings. The beauty of the image allows the viewer to elevate individual elements-the towel, the bowl-to a sort of ritual status. And while they all are clues as to the modest economic and social position of their owners, Evans gives them a seductive allure.

The photos of Walker Evans are on display, along with the work of other photographers from the collection of Martin Z. Margulies, at the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery, Edison Community College, March 11-April 16. Call (239) 489-9313.

-Mark Ormond

Mark Ormond is a Southwest Florida art historian and consultant.

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