IN 1971, on the eve of his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Walker Evans declared, “A document has use, whereas art is really useless. Therefore art is never a document, though it certainly can adopt that style.” This articulation of what Evans famously called “documentary style” helps situate the artist as a progenitor of both the new “social landscape” photographers and Conceptual artists using photography, who during the 1960s turned to the aesthetics of utilitarian pictures. Yet Evans’s definition also points to the continual semantic problems that arise when applying the term documentary to photography, and in a sense foretells the numerous critiques of the genre that arose in the ’70s and ’80s. The Centre Pompidou’s exhibition “Walker Evans” cleverly bypassed the loaded and historically slippery descriptor by situating Evans’s interest in everyday
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