Friday, May 26, 2017

Where it began

In the summer of 1936 Walker Evans and James Agee traveled South to work on an article for Fortune Magazine on poor white tenant farmers during the depression years. One day they met a man named Fred Tengle (or Tingle) in front of the courthouse in Greensboro Alabama. He was about to become one of the protagonists (namely Fred Ricketts) in the book with the title Let Us Now Praise Famous Men that would come out in 1941 (as the Fortune article never got printed). It sold only few copies and was forgotten quickly. Only to be remembered later on and to become a photographic and literary classic that has been published in many editions.

James Agee (Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 319f.) describes their first encounter like this:

"Down in front of the courthouse Walker had picked up talk with you, Fred, Fred Ricketts (it was easy enough to do, you talk so much; you are so insecure, before the eyes of any human being); and there you were, when I came out of the courthouse, the two of you sitting at the base of that pedestal wherefrom a brave stone soldier, frowning, blows the silence of a stone bugle searching into the North; and we sat and talked; or rather, you did the talking, and the loudest laughing at your own hyperboles, stripping to the roots of the lips your shattered teeth, and your vermilion gums; and watching me with fear from behind the glittering of laughter in your eyes, a fear that was saying, 'o lord god please for once, just for once, don't let this man laugh at me up his sleeve, or do me any meanness or harm' (I think you never got over this; I suppose you never will); while Walker under the smoke screen of our talking made a dozen pictures of you using the angle finder (you never caught on; I notice how much slower white people are to catch on than negroes, who understand the meaning of a camera, a weapon, a stealer of images and souls, a gun, an evil eye): and then two men came up and stood shyly, a little away; they were you, George, and you, Mr. Woods, Bud; you both stood there a little off side, shy, and taciturn, George, watching  us out of your yellow eyes, and you: Woods, quietly modeling the quid between your molars and your cheek; and this was the first we saw of you…"

Walker Evans: Frank Tengle, Hale County, Alabama, courtesy

No comments: