I’ve been re-reading Of Time and Place – Walker Evans and William Christenberry. (Pub: Friends of Photography and the Amon Carter Museum, 1990)
Re-reading is peculiarly appropriate for this catalogue/book which puts Walker Evans Hale County photographs and excerpts from James Agee’s text (originally published as Let Us Know Praise Famous Men), together with William Christenberry’s more recent Hale County photographs and Christenberry’s own commentary.
Both works concern history – Evan’s classic Southern photographs having acquired historic status with the passing of time and Christenberry’s being a profound investigation of the past in rural Alabama.
Going back over work often brings different things into relief – like shining a torch round an old cave and seeing drawings and details never noticed first time round.
When I first looked at the book, I was fascinated by Christenberry’s back story about the famous Palmist Building photographs and his efforts over the years to acquire the palmist sign from ‘Mr A’.
This time I was struck by perfect tone of Christenberry’s stories that sit beside his photographs – gentle, exact, with a deep understanding of his territory, but never editorialising, they seemed to perfectly match the photographic works.
I often detest people explaining their works, or trying to jam photographs and poetry together, to create meaning. But this was like hearing an author whose works you’ve really admired in reading, and finding that the person really does match the sensibility that attracted you in the first place.
Given that Christenberry also creates evocative sculptures of the buildings he photographs, perhaps it’s no surprise that the stories are part of a continuum.
Here’s a useful backgrounder on Christenberry and his relationship to Walker Evans.