Review of “A Graveyard and Steel Mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania” by Walker Evans

My tutor Jayne Taylor suggested that I review “A graveyard and steel mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania as a follow on to exercise 1.9 soft light landscape.

I decided that I would analyse the photo before researching Walker Evans, and I’m very pleased with my analyses, having now researched Walker Evans. My analyses helps me to see how much I have developed by completing two sections of the coursework for Workflow.

W1siZiIsIjIxMTY2MiJdLFsicCIsImNvbnZlcnQiLCItcmVzaXplIDY0MHg2NDBcdTAwM2UiXV0Fig 1

My notes:- Four layers, Foreground – cross, then mid-ground split into two layers (front) graveyard (back) church and buildings, background – steel mill.

Very few blacks, mid-tone are quite dark, few whites, low contrast.

Initially I thought the shadows were confusing as one Shadow (headstone and cross – middle of mid-ground) appeared it was falling to north north east, whilst the rest are falling to the east. I’m using my mobile phone to look at the image and finally managed to see that the headstone shadow is also falling to the east, but the shape of the headstone made it appear different.

Sun – left, quite low, suggesting mid to late afternoon. Taken in bright daylight, but the grey sky suggests otherwise. Why? Photo silver nitrate on gelatine and developed in dark room, overall picture under developed, but with correct development of mid and foreground (having never used a darkroom this analysis is based upon my limited knowledge of digital developing).

Photo taken in 1935, the great depression. This makes me believe this photo is a metaphor.  Why? The picture doesn’t give me a realist impression of death, the graveyard has better light and more lights and whites than the rest of the photo, I find it quite cheery. The photo is a metaphor for the death of a community, Bethlehem,  and the impact of the steel industry on unemployment, loss of income, property and decline of a community.

Research:- Starting point Wikipedia. Great Depression, Drought, Dustbowl. Unemployment soared to 25%, GDP fell by 15% worldwide (comparison – 2008 recession – worldwide GDP only fell by 1% and that had a major impact worldwide). (wikipedia; 2017)

Bethlehem Steel Corporation – well developed, well managed and profitable company that made a loss of $30m from 1931 – Dec 1933 and had to lay of staff and close mills and factories. Although at the time Walker Evans took the photo the company was turning over a profit as it had retooled and developed production lines to produce rolled tin for the newly developing tin can (beer can) industry. Despite this growth Bethlehem and surrounding community had been devastated by the Great Depression. (; 2017)

During 1935 Walker Evans photographed for the Resettlement Administration . Words associated with Walker Evans are information specialist, formalism, modernism, realism and documentary. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art; 2004)

Despite the consistent biographies of Walker Evans I don’t find this particular photograph of his to be of the documentary, information or realist styles of photography. I feel that this photo presents an allegorical narrative of the impact of the Great Depression upon a town and community.


5 Replies to “Review of “A Graveyard and Steel Mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania” by Walker Evans”

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