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Like the work of most great artists, the best of Walker Evans’ pictures are marvels of contradiction. Or, rather, they acquire their power through the contradictions they deftly reconcile. One especially striking example: a photograph from 1930 (slide 11 in this gallery) comprised of elements so incongruous that, taken together, they really should not bear scrutiny for more than a few moments before the viewer, shrugging indifferently, moves on.

But through Evans’ uncanny visual alchemy, that particular photograph’s disparate graphic elements—family photos; a half-hidden American flag; dried flowers; a truly hideous plant growing with almost unseemly vitality from a battered wooden bucket—appear not only to belong together, but to need one another in order to make sense.

MOMA

Cover

As seemingly chaotic and even unappealing as the image might feel at first glance, those wildly variant aspects of the photo—the flag, the plant, the faces—somehow cohere into something far more than the sum of their parts. Despite its initially jarring message, “Interior Detail of Portuguese House” does not, in fact, spurn scrutiny—it commands, and rewards, scrutiny. And what’s more amazing is that, after a time, the photograph appears to be gazing back. It is the viewer, and not the picture, that is the subject of an unblinking inquiry—and it’s unsettling.

But if Evans’ pictures are evidence of a rare facility for both creating and resolving contradictions, his career might be seen as his masterpiece. A fierce, determined artist, Walker Evans was for decades on staff at Time Inc.—a salaried editor at, of all places, Fortune magazine from the 1940s until the mid-1960s. That the man behind one of the seminal photographic efforts of the 20th century—the 1938 masterwork, American Photographs—went to the office each day, like any other nine-to-fiver, might astonish those photography buffs who have always, understandably, imagined Evans as nothing if not an irresistible creative force.

And yet, here again, Evans’ intrinsic contradictions—managed as Rodin might handle a lump of clay, or Koufax a curveball—are ultimately resolved in the photographs, singly and collectively, that he produced. He is both iconoclast and working stiff; company man and virtuoso.

This year marks the 75th anniversary edition of American Photographs, reissued by the Museum of Modern Art in an edition that recaptures, for the first time since its original release, what might be called the book’s radical purity. (The book itself, as a physical object, is a pleasure to hold; the duotone plates are gorgeous and crisp, and the size of this edition—an at-once solid and easily handled 7.75″ x 8.75″ hardcover—does justice to the serious, unfussy, thrilling nature of the work inside.)

As in the first edition, Evans’ pictures in the MoMa release appear only on the right-hand side as one turns each page, the utterly blank page on the left—without even a caption to distract the eye—adjuring one to look, to really look, at each picture, one after the other. And as the pages (slowly, slowly) turn, Evans’ accomplishment grows more evident, more impressive, more engaging.

The standard line on Evans is that no one—with a camera or a paintbrush—had ever captured America in quite the clear-eyed, unsentimental, honest  way that he did. But that patently true declaration still fails to encompass the scale and the sustained excellence of his achievement. In American Photographs, in images made during the Great Depression in places as divergent as Pennsylvania, Alabama, New York City and Havana, Cuba, Evans did not hold a mirror up to his country and his time: no mirror ever made, after all, could so clearly reflect what he saw, and what he wanted others to see.

Instead, each and every one of Evans’ pictures provides a window—or an unadorned window frame—from which even the glass has been removed, and through which we witness a scene of such clarity and immediacy that our own contemporary surroundings, if only for a moment, seem somehow less freighted with history. Less grounded. Less real.

The details of a house in Maine (slide 17)—the surprisingly jaunty, seemingly tilted windows; the elegant shapes, graceful patterns and, above all, the textures that give the structure its personality—are not merely the handiwork of people who obviously cared about their hard work; the details of the house are reminders of, and tributes to, the enduring value of hard work and the attention to craft.

The stance, the clothing and the unreadable expression on the face of a lean, dapper citizen of Havana in 1932 (slide 9) are not merely separate elements of a snapshot: like the details of a portrait by an Old Master, they combine to suggest a time, a place and an attitude (defiant, dignified) that have survived the passing decades intact—even if, by now, the man himself must be long dead.

These pictures, and the other pictures in American Photographs, are intensely daring precisely because the man who made them worked so hard to hide—to efface—the effort that went into creating them. Each image stands on its own, while at the same time each picture references the photograph that comes before, and the photograph that follows. It is a straightforward book that stirs complex emotions. It is a treasure.

‘Walker Evans: American Photographs (Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Edition)’ is available through the Museum of Modern Art.

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.

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Though somewhat of a complex craft, the art of photographic printing isn’t exactly rocket science—that is, until an artist like Boris Savelev approaches the process, and decides to push it further.

Savelev, who spent his working life in the former Soviet Union as a rocket engineer, brings the same methodical eye to his photography and printing process. He has experimented with color photography since the 1980s, but those early attempts left Savelev unsatisfied with the resulting colors. That dissatisfaction has become a theme for his artistic trajectory; since then he has tried various printing techniques for his photographs. Color Constructions, a new exhibition of his work, represents the apex of his experimentation in printmaking.

“I am writing my biography with them,” Savelev says of his images and the reasoning behind the one-of-a-kind process he prepares himself. “With each new image prepared for printing, my impressions are sharpened and the final print takes on a bright expression, a personal character.”

Savelev got his first major photographic opportunity in 1986. At the start of perestroika in the Soviet Union, Thomas Neurath of London’s Thames and Hudson book publishers visited Moscow in search of “unofficial” artists, and selected Savelev’s work. A selection of those images would eventually be published in 1988 as The Secret City, the artist’s first monograph. Though a success that would gain him international attention, the color quality of the images still left Savelev wanting more from his prints.

The materials used in the process for Color Constructions are surprisingly industrial; for this particular series, the images appear printed on sheets of aluminum, which Savelev prefers for its archival quality and says ensures the “colorful saturation of the hues” in each image. But the process, which does give the appearance of a broader tonal range of color, requires unique preparation for each image. Each panel is coated in gesso, an artistic primer usually used for painting, in order to receive the pigment from each photograph, and is waxed after the image has been printed. Because of the large size and uncommon materials, the image is made with a multi-layer, flatbed printer, custom-made in conjunction with Factum Arte, a Madrid-based studio. According to Factum Arte’s Adam Lowe, in designing the process the studio became filled with 3D scanners and disassembled digital printers.

Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

Savelev's Color Constructions on display in London.

The journey, physical as well as artistic, was a necessary one: “In Moscow no one knows or imagines what a multi-layered print on aluminum is,” Savelev says. “The culture of printing is lost, the tradition of master printers is forgotten, the studios are closed.”

The result is anything but synthetic. Many of Savelev’s images are from his hometown of Czernowitz, where he lived until 1966 when he moved to Moscow. A photograph of a vacant barber shop, dramatically cast in shadows, is an homage to a photographer friend of Savelev’s. The artist, also from Czernowitz, snapped a frame of the same barber shop in black and white that inspired Savelev with its beauty, and he dedicates his own uniquely moody color image to his late friend’s memory. The sum of Color Constructions is a nostalgic view of a Russia no longer in existence; the intent of the printing process is not as a technical exercise, but rather as a means to express the quiet, lonely scenes of former Soviet cities as faithfully as possible. The soft, dreamy colors that Savelev’s process renders are true to his film and his eye, which appear timeless—indeed, the series remains cohesive while including images shot in the past year as well as in the mid 1980s—and show the Russian landscape in an extraordinarily contemplative manner.

Savelev’s images belie the story of an artist seeking to overcome the gap between the image’s original emotive quality, and its representation on the printed surface. Through a process he’s honed slowly since beginning his career in photography decades ago, the complete control over the images is worth the effort, both for the viewer and the artist.

“I do not regret the time spent in search of new technology, or studying early methods and solutions, opening up for myself something personal,” Savelev says. “For me, the final goal is the print.”

Color Constructions is on display at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London through Jan. 21.

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These images, by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small towns. The color digital photographs, scans of color transparencies, show the places of Depression Era America – the industry, the homes, the landmarks and [...]

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In his new book, the filmmaker investigates the mysteries behind some of photography’s most famous news images. Here, Morris walks TIME through five of his fascinating case studies:

TIME: In your first case study, the Crimean cannonball photos (slides 9 and 10), you write about how we can often make certain assumptions about a photographer’s intent that can misdirect us from the truth. How did that play out in these two pictures?

First off I want to say that I don’t think photographs are true or false. I always associate truth and falsity with language, rather than images, photographic and otherwise. People become endlessly confused because they think that some photographs are more true or less true than others, and they get trapped in a strange set of arguments that I believe lead nowhere. If one photograph is more true than another, then you ask yourself, are there things I can do to guarantee the truth of a photograph or to make it more truthful.

Your question was about the intent of a photographer. One of the things that people are most concerned about is the intention to deceive, to trick us, to lead us astray. Well, this pair of photographs, taken in 1855 by Roger Fention, is one of the very first war photographs. A barren landscape bisected by a road littered with cannonballs. The photographs are identical except that in one there are cannonballs on the road and in the other, there are not.

And it leads people to speculate, without even knowing they were speculating, about the order of the photographs, why there are cannonballs on the road in one and not in the other. And I used this as a way to examine our attitudes towards photographs, how we often read things into them things which weren’t there in the first place.

And at one point I even suggest that by thinking about this pair of photographs, we are really examining the nature of photography in general. So I ask a reader to go on an excursion with me. I like to think of them as little mysteries. To try to look at photographs, to try to think about what our assumptions are about them and to accompany me on an investigation into what we’re really looking at.

TIME: In writing about documentary photographs, you say that, in essence, every shot is posed because the photographer always chooses what and what not to include in the frame. I don’t think the average viewer—whether they are seeing a picture in a newspaper or a magazine or a museum exhibition—ever thinks about the fact that each photograph involved a decision of what not to include as much as it did what do include.

Photography is in part how I make my living, and I think about photography and photographs all the time. When you’re creating an image—and most of the images I create are in truth aren’t still images but motion picture images—but when you create an image, I often think about what I’m not including as well as what I am including. Images in part derive their power from the fact that we are excluding so much of the world. They’re focusing our attention in a way they it might not be focused otherwise. I can’t remember my exact wording, but somewhere in the book I talk about how photographs are ripped from the fabric of reality. I like the idea that they are torn out of reality. And we look at them and we don’t see above or below or to the left or to the right, we just see what’s inside the frame. And that’s easy to forget about.

TIME: Something that was apparent to me in your next case study was that sometimes the people who should be skeptical about photographs aren’t. I’m talking about the hooded man photo. The New York Times ran a story that identified a man as the person in that famous photo (slide 8), but it wasn’t him.

It’s probably the iconic photograph of the Iraq war. Photographs become iconic because they resonate with people for all kinds of reasons. And that photograph has been seen by hundreds of millions of people. A number of people said to me, “Well why do you care who’s under the hood? Does it really make any difference? After all, the photograph is not about who’s under the hood, it’s about torture, or it’s about these crimes committed at Abu Ghraib in 2003. Why do you care about the specific details of who it was?” And I would say that I care about both. I care about how photographs are received and viewed by people, but I also really care about their connection to the underlying world. It’s part of the mystery for me. What is it that I’m looking at? Yes, there are well-received beliefs about this photograph, but what really are we looking at? And usually you can’t determine that from just looking at the photograph itself. Usually you have to investigate. Usually you have to look further. And part of what interested me about the Abu Ghraib photographs is that a lot of people were aware of them in this country and abroad, people had views about them, and they made people very very angry for many different reasons, but no one had seemingly bothered to actually try to contextualize them, to try to investigate what it was that we were looking at, as if it was obvious.

And I have an expression that I’m fond of, which is that nothing is so obvious that it’s obvious. It’s usually when we think things are obvious that it’s time to actually look further and to try to look at our underlying assumptions. And by the way, you can investigate and you can come up short. You’re not guaranteed to solve every mystery that you set out to solve. We tried so very very hard to find the guy, the real guy, and came up short.

TIME: With the Sabrina Harmon photos (slides 6 and 7), we first saw them and saw her smiling over this dead body and that smile implied guilt even though it turns out she didn’t do anything—she didn’t abuse the prisoner, she didn’t kill him and she’s not genuinely smiling. But we automatically think that this woman helped beat this guy up and kill him.

We have problems with ambiguity and unresolved mysteries. We also have problems with complexity. Often there’s a need to see people as heroes or as villains rather than in some gray area in between. It’s easier to navigate through life that way. I was criticized for defending Sabrina Harmon. After all, what these bad apples did was terrible. A disgrace. And I am seemingly an apologist for what they did at Abu Ghraib. And I would beg to differ. Take this photograph of Sabrina Harmon and the corpse of Al Jamadi—I was trying to contextualize that image, to put it back into history, and I learned some very surprising things.

In the case of Sabrina. She took a whole range of photographs of that corpse, many of which were to document what she thought was a crime. This man had been beaten to death, presumably by a CIA operative. She had not been involved in any way. She had merely recorded the aftermath of this crime. And she, as indicated in her letters to her girlfriend she felt there was a cover-up going on and that she was going to expose it.

So we look at the photograph and think we’re seeing perhaps a murderer gloating over their crime. And, in fact, what we’re see is something very different.

TIME: At one point, you write the following: “While the technology may have changed, the underlying issues remain constant: When does a photograph document reality? When is it propaganda? When is it art? Can a single photograph be all three? That’s you writing about the Rothstein cow skull photo (slides 1-3). What’s the story there?

The Roosevelt administration had created the FSA, the Farm Security Administration, and they in turn hired photographers who were to become the most famous in history—Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein, Dorothea Lange. These are among the great American photographers of Depression-era America. And they took literally thousands of photographs under the auspices of the government. And Rothstein was sent to the Dakotas to document the drought. And he took a photograph of a cow skull in what looked like to be a close to desert landscape. And this photograph was published in newspapers around the country as an example of how bad the drought had become in the Dakotas.

Well Rothstein did something—you could call it a mistake—he did something that created almost instant controversy when they found out about it. He had moved the cow skull to five or six different locations and photographed it. Now when people became aware there was more than one cow skull photograph and that he had moved them, for artistic purposes is what he argued, he was trying to get a really good shot with the right shadows of the cow skull. Then people say, “Well why that picture and not this one, and what were you doing, were you moving the cow skull? Were you manipulating the photograph to trick people?”

Well here’s the central irony. Here’s one of the ironies. You look at the photographs and you think, ooh, there was a drought. And guess what? There was a drought! Did the fact that he moved the cow skull suddenly invalidate that photograph? Well, you have to know something about the circumstances under which it was taken. And I did try to investigate that issue.

TIME: Finally, let’s talk about these Mickey Mouse in Palestine photos. You have a wire photographer, you have this picture of Mickey outside a bombed out apartment complex in Lebanon (slides 11 and 12). There are questions of agenda, of whether the photographer moved the mouse there, of whether the selection alone implied a bias.

These toy photographs, there was a whole collection of them that came out of Lebanon. And the claim was that pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas photographers are, the way I imagined it, was that they were appearing in the war zone with a big bag of toys and distributing them and taking pictures of them with the intention of misleading people. One way to look at it is that Israelis are killing Palestinian children.

One of the well-known photographs of a toy taken in Lebanon, in southern Lebanon was taken by this Associated Press photographer Ben Curtis. Another irony. That we think we know how that photograph is going to be used, but it was used in just the opposite way in a newspaper than I would have thought, in an anti-Palestinian op-ed. It shows how photographs can, the meaning of them, or what we take to be the meaning of them, can be so easily changed by the context that we place around them, the new story we place around them—the caption that we put under them can change everything.

Believing is Seeing was published by Penguin Press

Gilbert Cruz is a senior editor at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @gilbertcruz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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It helps me to order my chaotic thoughts in a visual way.

Name: Martin Wunderwald
Hometown: Dresden, Germany
Style of photography: Architecture, Stillife
Type of camera(s): Medium format: Hasselblad 500 C/M, Seagull. 35mm: Nikon F90X
Website: I am working on it, until release: Flickr

What gives you inspiration?

All inspiration comes from the inside. I find and feel complexity in apperently lifeless objects and situations. And I love it to bring them to life, this means I am a huge fan of anthropomorphism. I want to attach importance and beauty to the things I photograph by embedding them into the stable medium format. 

What are your influences?

Since I photograph what I feel, I don’t see myself influenced by any other photographer. For me, photography is more about the process than the outcome. I am easy to impress with photographic quality and simple but strong motives.  

Why did you choose these photos? 

I have chosen a photo from Iceland, because thats where I felt in love with photography. The chronological second photo are the ballet dancers which shows the emotional power of photography that impresses me so often. The pillow with morning light stands for my personal conflict between concrete, stable square format and emotions that I try to express. The latest photograph is from a series that I call “containment” and represents the power of imagination and anthropomorphism.

What does photography mean to you?

My photography basically is the expression of what I can not express with words. It helps me to order my chaotic thoughts in a visual way. The time freezing aspect of photography stops my world from turning which helps me to calm down. 

Photos:

Copyright reserved by Martin Wunderwald

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