350MC – After Walker Evans
Sherrie Levine shocked the art world in 1979 with her After Walker Evans photographs. Walker Evans photographed the Burroughs, a family of sharecroppers in the Depression era and his photographs were published in a book that became the quintessential record of the rural American poor. In 1979 Levine re-photographed Evans’ photographs and without any manipulation of the images she presented them in an exhibition of her work.
Left: Sherrie Levine, After Walker Evans, 1981; Right: Walker Evans, Alabama Tenant Farmer’s Wife, 193613
By bringing this work back into the conscious of the art world, she was advancing the art form that is photography by using it to increase our awareness of already existing imagery. On a basic level, we tend to equate originality with aesthetic newness. Why should a new concept – the concept of appropriation and the utilising of existing imagery – be deemed unoriginal? Sherrie Levine was interested in the idea of “multiple images and mechanical reproduction”. She said of her work “it was never an issue of morality; it was always an issue of utility.”14This statement is easily applied to the works of other appropriation artists, as well as Levine’s. Her work did not attempt to edit or manipulate any of these images, but simply capture them.