Friday, 30 August 2013
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans
Why I chose it: Harold Bloom's Western Canon
Brow: High. But not the highest.
Summary: In 1936, Walker Evans and James Agee accepted a commission from Fortune magazine to write a story about the plight of white sharecroppers in the southern US. They lived with 3 families for a month, photographing them and documenting their day-to-day existence. When the article was not published, they re-wrote it as a book.
What I liked about it: The photographs are amazing, of course, as are the descriptions of the families' homes, possessions, meals, work, clothing and schools.
What I didn't like about it: First, the photographs are presented with no descriptions, so you have only a rough idea of which person is which. Second, while the authors spend dozens of pages exhaustively cataloging the contents of one family's living room, they devote almost no time to the families themselves. There is almost nothing in the way of character development or plot. We get no sense of how family dynamics work or how the families relate to their community or society at large. I definitely would have preferred to have some psychology and sociology mixed in with the static snapshot of their lives.