Cruel and Tender initial thoughts and research

Cruel and Tender initial thoughts and research

For Cruel and Tender – Location Photography – I should research other photographers’ work to plan my own shooting. But interpretation of the theme should reflect my individual way of working.

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Cruel + Tender – The Real in the Twentieth Century Photograph, Tate Modern Website Screenshot

To begin with I found a teachers pack from the past exhibition under the same name, that took place in Tate Modern in 2003. Reading through it I came across some interesting informations.

In 1933 American writer Lincoln Kirstein described the work of Walker Evans as possessing a “tender cruelty”.  He alluded to the way images were spare and factual; yet with passion towards subject matter. Evans in turn was influenced by French photographer Eugene Atget, who worked at the turn of the 20th century, recording ‘underbelly’ of Paris as it was, before it changed.

Eugene Atget, 1857-1927

They both represented ‘objective’ documentary approach. They strived to portray the neutral representation of the world as seen by photographer, rather than artistic, expressive view. I like this kind of mental separation of approaches to photography, although as we know there is always a continuum along which the styles blend. According to this ‘Cruel and Tender’ falls into utilitarian rather than aesthetic type. Evans himself wanted to achieve balance between form and content, in order to affect the viewer. So there is an artistic consideration.

Walker Evans, 1936 – Allie Mae Burroughs; this photo became a symbol of the Great Depression

Conceptually the desire to fix the transitory and passing character of reality becomes the subject of the image.

This had a huge impact on the development of abstract art, as photography took over the role of painting in representing the reality, only could do it better. Consequently it led to painting and sculpture needing to find a new direction. Photography was highly regarded as a literacy of the new world and took central role in art and design classes at Bauhaus in 1920/30.


Walker Evans, 1936 – Floyd and Lucille Burroughs on Porch, Hale County, Alabama


Agency (Resettlement Administration) hired photographers to photograph conditions of living and working in rural America. In 1935 Evans’s assignment was to document problems and progress of administration. In his own words: “I was very innocent about government, …, I just photographed everything that attracted me at the time, and rather unconsciously was recording that period. I didn’t think of it as such, the work piled up, and some of it is looked at now as record that I wasn’t even thinking of making.”
About his work in summer 1936 with author James Agee for Fortune Magazine about sharecroppers hard hit by depression: “…the work produced at the depression looks like social protest. It wasn’t intended to be. It wasn’t intended to be used as a propaganda for any cause. … I don’t think it had the purpose of improving the world.

People and their way of life was what fascinated him. “I do regard photography as an extremely difficult act. I believe the achievement of the work that is evocative and mysterious, and at the same time realistic is a great one. And rare one. And perhaps some times almost an accident”.

Walker Evans in his own words – You Tube video.

(Featured image by Eugene Atget)

Assignment criteria (help anyone???:)


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