Thomas Roma/Walker Evans Essay, Research Paper
The retrospective exhibits of Walker Evans: Simple Secrets and Thomas Roma: Intimate City on display at the International Center of Photography present a cross section of each photographer s works. Thomas Roma, an active photographer, shows his interpretation of Brooklyn through a six series narrative. The Walker Evans exhibit, made possible by the Marian and Benjamin A. Hill Collection, takes a sampling of photographs from Evan s expansive photographic career. Court Portraits was Roma s first series presented in the show. Taken at the Brooklyn Criminal Courthouse Brooklyn courthouse, Roma casts a few courthouse stragglers as his subjects. All seem to be in a quiet submission to the photographer, like in acts of repentance or admittance. Higher Ground looks to be Roma s most prolific effort. A compilation of subway photographs in a range of emotion and scale. Subway straphangers and riders populate his photographs either sleeping or caught in their thoughts. Like many of the other pictures in his series a common tie can be seen in his subway interior shots. The passengers lean toward an overexposed light, as if the light held spiritual power. After looking at his book, I wasn t quite convinced on the implied meaning that Roma has given his subjects. He makes a candid portrait contrived, thereby unconvincing. It is when Roma looks out that he relinquishes some freedom to the subject. The pictures taken outside the train transport you the elevated tracks overlooking the expanse of the Brooklyn landscape. The foreground while containing some metaphors like the signal lights, let the background (Brooklyn) do most of the talking. So now Roma moves from the elevated trains to the intimacy of the Brooklyn backyard in Found in Brooklyn . His photos call to attention the diversity of the Brooklyn landscape, small fenced in back yards, to highways and overpasses. Sanctuary seems to be a part of Roma s exploration of Brooklyn topography. Sunset Park , photographs that use the life around a Brooklyn pool, is another extension of Roma s candids. For Roma, the moment seems less powerful than the way he can instill meaning into his pictures. More often than not Roma s subjects are placed into position by Roma. This way of setting up a photograph leads to a definite way of looking at the picture. However the rigidity of the photos contradict the spontaneity and allure of candids. Come Sunday , a study of African-American churches, combines the somber, introspective mood of the Higher Ground subway portraits with some of the exuberance of the Sunset Park series.The Walker Evans exhibition is a brief synopsis of the phases in his career, or at least as far as the Marian and Benjamin A. Hill Collection allowed. The exhibit was treated more like a retrospective rather than a focus on one of Evans s concerns. All of the photographs of Walker Evans are small in size, from his candids to his landscapes. As a device the small scale detracted from the impact of the photos. But the small scale really gets every single detail in crisp, sharp focus thereby giving the picture a weight that larger pictures would not be able to catch. In respect to the majority of the exhibit, his candids did not occupy a large enough presence in the collection. A couple of street scenes and a few subway shots were all to be seen. The street scenes are articulate and you can tell that Evans has no apprehension taking the pictures, and getting up close to his subjects. He moves around, takes different angles, explores his possibilities. The subway photos are a different matter. For some reason Evans lost the immediacy he had with his street scene subjects. Taken with a small camera through a buttonhole, the pictures do not have any sort of exposure control, sense of framing, and sharpness. All qualities that are held in the highest regard in almost all of Evans s photos.
His studies of New England and New York Victorian architecture was the most numerous of the collection. In these pictures we can see the amount of detail that is surprisingly captured in these small prints. Most are frontal shots; with the two-dimensional composition and small scale, the architecture is dwarfed further into small toy miniatures. Large pictures of the same subjects would have given the pictures a whole different meaning all together. Either monumental and overbearing with the larger scale or more intimate with the smaller scale.Few pictures from Farm Security Administration period of his career were seen. It would have been nice to see a hint of the Dorothea Lange type shots he is also known to have taken, but the landscapes of the desolate land was what Evans was most famous for. The detail that Evans uses so much really shows through with the landscape of the Depression.Comparing Walker Evans to Thomas Roma just doesn t seem fair. Both took pictures within New York City, both took landscapes. Roma s work pales in comparison to the body or photographs Evans has built up, but the Evans show at ICP did downplay Evans. Roma would have been overshadowed much more if more Evans candids were shown.When comparing the subway shots of each photographer, Ellen Handy suggests Roma, emphasizes the social aspects of subway travel. Thus breaking the celebrated precedent set by Walker Evans, where brooding subway passengers are momentarily introspective. Subway travel did not look like the emphasis of Roma s subway photos. Whereas Evans was uncertain about his subway portraits, Roma understood exactly what he wanted and it shows through. The aspects of subway travel was nowhere to be seen in Roma s photos, instead he took Evans s momentary introspection and made it timeless. Roma pounds his points home, Evans is subtler.The most obvious difference between Roma s landscapes from the landscapes of Evans is the scale. Besides that Roma uses his landscapes the same way he makes candids. The way he frames his landscapes, leaves, include things play a part in Roma s blatant messages.Evans is able to capture emotion while keeping a control over his subject in the manner of Cartier-Bresson s decisive moment . Roma and Evans worked in two different ways when dealing with the subject of people. Roma took on a more rigid style of shooting, instilling meaning into his subjects. Evans was lucid; his style ranged from confrontational to passive, always letting the emotion convey from his subjects.