This is the next phase in the artistic development of Walker Evans’ photographic record of Alabama in 1936 – Created by Phil Hackett in 2014
In 1936 Walker Evans photographed the Burroughs, a family of share-croppers in Depression era Alabama.
In the years of the Great American Depression of 1935-36, the Missouri-born photographer, Walker Evans (1903-1975), embarked on a photographic project that would produce some of the most iconic images in the history of photography. Evans was employed as an ‘Information Specialist’ in President Franklin D Roosevelt’s Resettlement (later Farm Security) Administration. He was commissioned alongside other eminent photographers of the time (Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein) to record the work of the FSA’s rehabilitation programme, as well as to document the daily lives of farmers and flood victims. (Southbank, Unknown)
He travelled to Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina photographing churches, graveyards, busy streets, shops, cafes, signs and billboards as well as making more intimate portraits of family life. He also recorded interiors and exteriors of sharecroppers’ homes, group portraits and the famous close-up portraits of the Burroughs family. These disquieting, provocative images are seen by many as the culmination of Evans’ photographic career, capturing the expressions of the weak and vulnerable and showing the fragility of their existence. His work bears witness to the realities faced by Depression-era communities in the Deep South. (Southbank, Unknown)
These images along with many others were produced in a widely distributed published exhibition catalogue by Walker Evans called “First and Last” in 1978.
In 1979 Sherrie Levine rephotographed Walker Evans’ photographs from the exhibition catalogue “First and Last” (Evans, 1978: 72-81).
Sherrie Levine’s post-modern assertion is that one could rephotograph an image and create something new in the process, she critiques the modernist notion of originality which the theorist Walter Benjamin, who explored the relationship of reproduction and artistic authenticity, argues that a reproduction becomes the authentic experience. (Mandiberg, 2001)
Walter Benjamin also argued that reproduction destroyed the physical sacredness of the original object, and made it useful to those who could not own such objects. Levine, on the other hand, has made her object even more sacred as her work is much harder to find than Evans’ originals – in fact they are almost never reproduced, and exists only in museums and private collections. She avoids publicity and reproduction of her own images ostensibly to avoid “myth-making” yet this lack of information creates exactly what she is attempting to avoid — anonymity creates attention and a type of artist ego, it doesn’t efface this, (Mandiberg, 2001) the ‘myth’ has been ‘made’.
In 2001 Michael Mandiberg scanned the same photographs as Levine and created AfterWalkerEvans.com and AfterSherrieLevine.com.
Mandiberg’s approach was to create a search engine browsable on-line gallery with links to high-resolution exhibition-quality downloads, along with a certificate of authenticity for each work, including directions on how to frame the image so that it will fulfil the requirements of the certificate of authenticity, which once printed and signed by yourself, confirms that you are the official authenticated owner of the work.
By building URL’s into the image title – the Evans/Levine/Mandiberg images become easily locatable and downloadable by anyone who sees or reads about the work. By distributing the images on-line with certificates of authenticity, they become accessible and ownable by anyone. The authentication certificates are used to insure that each satellite image be considered with equal authenticity, not the opposite. This is an explicit strategy by Mandiberg to create a physical object with cultural value, but little or no economic value.
In 2001 Kendall Bruns downloaded Mandiberg’s sites AfterSherrieLevine.com and AfterWalkerEvans.com, and created his version of AfterMichaelMandiberg.com to give a greater demonstration of the extent to which media is known and distributed in this digital age. At some point after this date the web hosting of the site lapsed, in an e-mail conversation he told Hackett “I don’t specifically remember deciding to not keep the site up but I must have let it lapse at some point. Maybe it’s fitting because we feel like all of this digital information we’re creating will be around forever but in reality it needs maintenance and attention just like anything else to survive.” (Bruns, 2014)
In 2012 Mandiberg made the photographs from “First and Last” ‘QRcode’ scannable, and created the tumblr blog AfterMichaelMandiberg [linked to the QR codes] to facilitate their dissemination. He states that “This is both: as a critique, and a collaboration, to use Levine’s own phrase. By ‘blogging’ these images, I am bringing her critique into the digital age: one is increasingly likely to see (Evans’) images on a computer screen, and not in a text book; similarly the tools of image production have shifted to digital media.” (Mandiberg, 2012)
In 2014 Phil Hackett created a series of limited edition prints from Mandiberg’s downloadable images which are now marketed for sale here on AfterMichaelMandiberg.com with all profits going to the AlabamaPossible charity, to support their Alabama Poverty Project.
Hackett’s approach is to take these multi appropriated images from Walker Evans’ originals direct from AfterSherrieLevine.com to produce a series of limited edition screen prints that are available to purchase direct from the artist.
Each image has been downloaded to the specifications instructed by Mandiberg, then re-scanned, contrast adjusted and reappropriated as a set of beautiful high contrast limited edition screen prints. As it is seventy seven years since the original photographs were taken, Hackett has produced each print with a limited edition run that adds up to seventy seven limited edition prints in total from the Mandiberg images.
With AfterMichaelMandiberg.com Hackett has created an appropriation paradox. Producing an appropriated piece of work in the web site however the prints produced are unique pieces of art created from the unaltered but appropriated originals. Hackett has given the Evans/Levine/Mandiberg images a new economic value and by adding to their story, increasing their timeline and their distribution he has added to their cultural value; by limiting their availability and offering them for sale (all profits going to charity) this next phase of Walker Evans’ photographic works from Alabama, both support and counter Benjamin’s arguments on mechanical reproduction; and Levine’s argument that an appropriated piece is a new piece of work; and Benjamin’s argument that an appropriated piece has less value than the original piece of work; and Mandiberg’s argument that by producing them on-line the appropriated works maintain a cultural value but little or no economic value.
AfterMichaelMandiberg.com and AfterKendallBruns.com and the limited edition prints produced by Hackett sold on them, are both appropriated and unique, have a cultural and an economic value that is unrelated to the original appropriated works and as a limited run have converted what Mandiberg considers “Open Source” into commodities that can be bought, owned, sold etc.
If you would like to purchase one of the 77 limited edition prints, please contact the artist direct here.
N.B. A vast proportion of the text in this article is appropriated by the artist from the following sources.