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Words About Pictures: National Book Festival Visitor Comments

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In a previous post (“Still Feeling the Glow: Photo Guessing Game at the National Book Festival,” Oct. 26), we described how we  brought copies of photographs from Prints & Photographs Division collections to the National Book Festival in September and asked visitors to participate in a “guessing game.”  We showed the pictures first with no identifying information, and we asked three questions:
1. What do you see in the picture?
2. Are there any details people might miss at first glance?
3.  What do you think that the photographer was trying to show? OR Tell us a story based on this picture.

This is the first in a series of posts offering comments a visitor wrote down about one of the photographs and gave us permission to share.

One visitor selected this picture:

"New York, New York, 61st Street between 1st and 3rd Avenues, Tenants." Photo by Walker Evans, 1938 Summer.

After looking at it, minus the caption, this observer summarized the picture as:  “Entrance to an apartment building” and offered the opinion that the photographer was trying to show “ordinary people taking a breather.”

The individual went on to provide this story:

“Woman cleaning, is exhausted, comes outside for a break and fresh air.  A guy is sitting outside, too, and she will speak to him.  They won’ t like each other.”

We’re grateful to this attendee for sharing perspectives on the picture.

How about you?  What details catch your eye in this photograph?  What story might you tell?

Learn more:

  • This is one of a series of photographs Walker Evans took in the streets of New York City while he was working for the Farm Security Administration. For more information about the group of photographs, see this discussion, “New York City Block,” taken from a chapter in Documenting America, 1935-1943 edited by CarlFleischhauer and Beverly W. Brannan.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
  • See our Visual Literacy exercise (PDF document, 165 kb)– one method for looking systematically at an image and determining what you see, what knowledge you bring to what you see, and what you would like to investigate further.
  • For further ideas about tools and exercises for analyzing primary source materials such as photographs, see the “Classroom Materials” pages (good for life-long learners, too!)

Comments (2)

  1. alguien se inspiro en esta foto para fabricar el personaje de popeye con el cuento de las espinacas

  2. Its about the cap on the guys head. Is he a sailor? The photo and the comments the viewer made have now trapped my mind into being stuck on what has been stated already. I have not yet read the caption. But I can say the object wedged between the door and the crack suggest the immediacy of the situation. These two people are not related. Something has happened at a distance that has caused them both to look. Perhaps they are looking away from Walker. The disdain scowls on each face suggests displeasure at something.

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