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Art&Seek on Think TV: 'American Modern' at the Amon Carter

Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White and Berenice Abbott created distinctive and groundbreaking bodies of work — Evans for his depictions of Southern poverty and rural isolation (Let Us Now Praise Famous Men), Bourke-White for her towering images of industrialization and gleaming, mass-produced items, Abbott for her New York street scenes of looming skyscrapers and ant-like pedestrians. Images by each of them are key documents in American cultural history — yes, capturing the Depression and the growing commercial might of America, but doing this just when the principles of photojournalism from the likes of Civil War photographer Matthew Brady converged with the modernist aesthetic of Alfred Stieglitz.

These three artists helped make the ’30s a unique time in American photography. Despite (and partly because of) the Depression, it was a ‘golden age’ of documentary photography, argues the catalog for American Modern, the current exhibition about these three artists at the Amon Carter Museum.

We talk to Jessica May, co-curator of the exhibition, about how the idea of the “documentary” didn’t really exist until the ’30s, how each of these artists crossed paths and influenced the others. We talk about the half-tone, the dot-matrix, the urge for narrative and why a gig at Life magazine could be a lifesaver — and crimp a photographer’s style.