Walker Evans Exhibit Revisits Depression-Era Lehigh Valley

For Immediate Release
September 14, 2012
Media Contact:
Chris Potash
(610) 432-4333 ext. 125


  Museum’s fall season includes B&W works by Walker Evans and those he influenced
Allentown, PA—The Allentown Art Museum is thrilled to bring the black-and-white photographs of Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Bill Owens, and other “documentary” photographers to the Lehigh Valley in the special exhibition Walker Evans & The American Social Landscape Photographers. The exhibition is part of the InVision Photo Festival, celebrated by ArtsQuest in November. Walker Evans & The American Social Landscape Photographersis comprised of photographs from the collection of Lehigh Valley resident David Sestak and has been organized by the Museum’s chief curator, Diane P. Fischer. The exhibition will hang in the Museum’s Rodale Gallery from October 7, 2012, through January 13, 2013.
Walker Evans’s landmark photographs of Easton, Bethlehem, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, and other nearby locations were part of his work that changed the course of photographic history, especially in America. In the 1930s, Evans created these and other images as part of federally sponsored programs that hired photographers to document America during the Great Depression. However, unlike earlier documentary photographers, Evans rejected Victorian notions of sentimentality and narrow-mindedness. Instead, his photographs are objective and open-minded. They demonstrate a new sensitivity and respect toward his subjects, regardless of how poor or otherwise disenfranchised they were.
Evans’s influence extended to the next generation of photographers as they explored America’s social landscape, and he personally championed Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, and Lee Friedlander. His presence is also echoed in the works of other photographers in this exhibition, including Garry Winogrand, Stephen Shore, Bill Owens, Leon Levinstein, and Judith Joy Ross. These photographers continued to explore the categories of the social landscape that Evans identified, but veered into new directions. 
This exhibition complements Franz Kline: Coal and Steel on view at the same time in the Museum’s Scheller Gallery. Walker Evans himself belonged to an earlier generation than Kline, but the photographers who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s are contemporaries of Kline and the other abstract expressionists. In fact, the photographers, like Kline, have been labeled as the “New York School.” As Coal and Steel guest curator Robert Mattison has noted, “The formal affinities that Kline shared with the photographers are significant. In addition to black-and-white vision, these include compressed space, simplifications, off-balance composition, an appreciation of dynamism and speed, and an interest in surface texture.”
In addition to the regional subject matter, Walker Evans & The American Social Landscape Photographersplays up another Pennsylvania connection, in that it includes works by two Lehigh Valley residents: Judith Joy Ross, who lives in Bethlehem, and Larry Fink, who resides in Martins Creek.
This exhibition, consisting of 73 photographs plus ephemeral material, shows Evans’s work in the context of 15 master photographers he influenced, including Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, and Garry Winogrand. The introductory section of the exhibition is devoted to Walker Evans and his photographs of theLehigh Valley. The second section demonstrates, according to curator Diane Fischer, “How Evans invented and codified a vernacular photography with distinctively American themes.” In this section, Evans’s work will be installed alongside works by subsequent photographers in the following categories: automobile culture, the alienation of the individual within a crowd, vernacular architecture and street scenes, the flat space and lettering of popular advertising and on billboards, and domestic interiors in which inanimate objects become surrogates for humanity. Says Fischer: “Within these imprecise and sometimes overlapping categories, there are references to industrialization, decay, indifference, and anonymity, in an America where everything and everyone is photographed equally, whether in large format photography that seems frozen in time, or in fleeting snapshots.”
A complete list of photographers included in the exhibit:
Diane Arbus
Bruce Davidson
Walker Evans
Louis Faurer
Larry Fink
Robert Frank
Lee Friedlander
Allen Ginsberg
William Klein
Leon Levenstein
Danny Lyon
Joel Meyerowitz
Bill Owens
Judy Joy Ross
Stephen Shore
Garry Winogrand
A Black & White Preview Party
Saturday, October 6, 2012, 6-8 p.m.
The Allentown Art Museum’s fall preview party on Saturday, October 6, celebrates the opening of a trio of special exhibitions: Walker Evans & The American Social Landscape Photographers; Franz Kline: Coal and Steel; and The Lerner Contemporary Glass Collection. Guests are welcome to wear black-and-white to the party, in honor of Evans and Kline. Admission is free to Museum members, $15 to the general public.  Please call 610-432-4333 x129 to RSVP.
Bill Owens: Suburbia to Leisure—Another Social Landscape
Sunday, October 21, 1 p.m.

California photographer Bill Owens is best known for his critically acclaimed series Suburbia, which was published in 1972, and has long been considered one of the classic photo books of the era. For this evocative project, Owens shot friends and acquaintances in his Livermore, California, neighborhood. Sometimes appearing like a 1970’s Arnolfini Portrait of environments, people and objects, each image tells a unique story. Owens continued to examine the American Social Landscape with the books: Our Kind of People: American Groups and Rituals, 1975, Working: I do It for the Money, 1977, and Leisure, 2005. Owens founded Buffalo Bill's Brewery and is President of the American Distiller’s Institute.  $5 members; $15 nonmembers. Call 610-432-4333, ext. 110 or ticketleap.com to register.
Geoff Gehman, with Curt Rowell: Walker Evans in the Lehigh Valley
Sunday, October 28, 1 p.m.
Journalist-historian Geoff Gehman began writing about Walker Evans in 1989, since then he’s analyzed Evans photos and the time Evans spent here. Join us for this illustrated talk about Walker Evans' pivotal 1935 photographic expedition in Easton and Bethlehem for the federal government. Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call and the author of the memoir, "The Kingdom of the Kid". Curt Rowel has followed Evans literally, tracing his travels and tripod placement where Evans made his iconic photos. Curt offers a contemporary layer to Evan’s documentation.  $5 members; $15 nonmembers. Call 610-432-4333, ext. 110 or ticketleap.com to register.
Joseph E. B. Elliott: The Steel
Sunday, November 11, 1 p.m.
Joseph Elliott makes photographs on the themes of industry, infrastructure, and place, using both traditional film and high-end digital technology. He works at the intersection of art and documentation, usually in collaboration with architects, historians, preservation experts, and ecologists. As head of the Photography department at Muhlenberg College, Elliott teaches all levels of digital and analog photography.$5 members; $15 nonmembers. Call 610-432-4333, ext. 110 or ticketleap.com to register.
Sandy Sorlien: Stormy Path—A Sudden Journey from Photographer to Urban Planner
Sunday, November 18, 1 p.m.
Before August 29, 2005, Sandy Sorlien was enjoying a career as a fine art photographer and teacher. She had received several fellowships, had published a book, and was teaching her dream class, The Photography of Urban Place, at the University of Pennsylvania. Her photographs of American towns and landscapes had a documentary purpose, and she believed that, by exhibiting and publishing them, she was advocating for better places. Then came Hurricane Katrina. Sandy was called to work at the Mississippi Renewal Forum, a massive week-long planning charrette. In the year following Katrina, Sandy flew from Philadelphia to Mississippi and Louisiana twenty times. Suddenly, she was writing new zoning codes for walkable neighborhoods full-time. But she was working with the same subject matter as always—place.  
In this talk, Sandy will describe the evolution of her photographic seeing, from documentary artwork of houses and Main Streets to analytical studies of urban frontages. Her images do not contain people, but in the tradition of Walker Evans, their presence is honored in both the human-made subject matter and the vantage point from the pedestrian's eye.  $5 members; $15 nonmembers. Call 610-432-4333, ext. 110 or ticketleap.com to register.
Larry Fink: “Investigating almost anything…”
Sunday, December 2, 1 p.m.
As Larry Fink has said, “My life has been spent in investigating almost anything and in such a way which is both studious and spontaneous.” Fink has documented the human social landscape for decades. He has had one-man shows at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Art.A two-time National Endowment for the Arts Fellow and a Guggenheim Fellow, Fink is currently a professor at Bard College in New York and has previously taught at NYU, Cooper Union, School of Visual Arts, Yale, Parsons School of Design, and The New School. Fink’s photographs are in the permanent collections of many established museums including the Allentown Art Museum’s. Larry promises that the talk will be “fifty-six years of pictures floating past your eyes, with anecdote and lunacy attached.” $5 members; $15 nonmembers. Call 610-432-4333, ext. 110 or ticketleap.com to register.
David Sestak: Gallery Tour with the Collector
Wednesday, December 5, noon                 
Join Lehigh Valley photography collector David Sestak as he offers insight into his choices while walking through the exhibit Walker Evans & The American Social Landscape Photographers.
These casual Noon Talks run approximately forty-five minutes. Noon Talks are free with Museum admission.
For more information on the events and programs at the Allentown Art Museum, please visit www.allentownartmuseum.org.
The Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley would like to thank the following sponsors of Walker Evans & The American Social Landscape Photographers:
Major Sponsor:The Leon C. and June W. Holt Endowment
Sustaining Sponsor:  The Audrey and Bernard Berman Endowment Fund
Supporting Sponsor: ICON, Senior Style, WDIY 88.1 FM—Lehigh Valley Community Public Radio
Founded in 1934 by the teacher, painter and critic Walter Emerson Baum (1884–1956), the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley has become the premier institution of visual arts in the region, serving as an important cultural destination as well as a vital element in the economic revitalization of downtown Allentown. The Museum’s newly expanded 48,900 sq. ft. facility showcases a growing collection of nearly 17,000 works of art of international importance, allowing visitors to experience a broad spectrum of art representing diverse media, materials and techniques from an equally diverse range of countries and cultures. In 1974 the Museum received prestigious accreditation from the American Association of Museums and today remains one of just 299 art museums of the 15,000 museums nationwide accorded this status.  For more information, please visit www.allentownartmuseum.org.