This essay revisits American Photographs , one of the most important photographic books of the 1930s. Containing two portfolios by Walker Evans and an essay by Lincoln Kirstein, the 1938 publication presents readers with eighty-seven photographs printed one per double-page spread. While critical studies of the book have focused on the sequential ordering of the photographs, and on the book's filmic qualities, this essay considers the book's other organizing principle: physiognomy. More specifically, focusing on Evans's decision to include three photographs that he made in Cuba into the book's first part, it attends to the processes of racialization organizing the book and producing America in the 1930s. Challenging canonical accounts of American Photographs and Depression-era documentary more broadly, this essay argues for a history of documentary that does not dispense with its modernism. The argument is not that modernism is still with us but that we need its repetitions.
In 1988, the Cuban collective ABTV engaged in its first of several acts of art-historical homage. ABTV (Tanya Angulo, Juan Pablo Ballester, José Ángel Toirac, and Illeana Villazón) photocopied reproductions of Sherrie Levine's After Series, the now canonical work of postmodernism in which Levine rephotographed reproductions of selection of photographs by America's white male modernist masters. This essay takes ABTV's homage as the starting point for an inquiry into the relationship between postmodernism and postcolonialism. How, it asks, has an obsession with “ends” shaped our histories of photography and revolution?