Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Walker Evans on the SX-70

This excerpt from a 1974 interview from Yale Alumni Magazine of Walker Evans, the famous FSA photographer that created some of the most iconic images of the Great Depression discusses how Evans first felt about the Polaroid SX-70 camera. This interview is 41 years old and basically the SX-70 was the "digital photography" of that era. Looked down upon by professionals as a camera that any hack could use to take photos with.

I feel the insights he provides about his feelings on the SX-70 still have a profound meaning today if you replace SX-70 with "digital photography".

Yale: What do you think of the modern emphasis on technology?
W.E.: Well, I don’t think much of it and so I’m very confused about that new camera. I took it to England last summer and a friend of mine who is an art critic said, “But it’s a precept that hard work and mastering a difficult technique is a necessary part of artistic achievement, and therefore this thing is immoral.” True, with that little camera your work is done the instant you push that button.
But you must think what goes into that. You have to have a lot of experience and training and discipline behind you, although I now want to put one of those things in the hands of a chimpanzee and a child and see what happens. Well, not the chimpanzee — that’s been done before. But I want to try that camera with children and see what they do with it. It’s the first time, I think, that you can put a machine in an artist’s hands and have him then rely entirely on his vision and his taste and his mind.
Yale: Maybe that’s one of the worst things about the SX-70 — that there is no technical hurdle. Just anyone can take shots.
W.E.: Well, that isn’t the worst thing. That’s always been true with anything, whether there’s any technical need or not. For example, we’re all taught to write, and anybody can sit down and write something. Not everybody can sit down and write something that’s worth writing.

With a digital camera anyone can take a photo, but not everyone can take a photo worth taking.

You can see the full interview on the ASX website: Walker Evans interview with Yale

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