American Modern, the beautifully illustrated companion volume to the exhibit of the same name, explores the reinvention of documentary photography in the 1930s, focusing on the work of three iconic figures: Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, and Margaret Bourke-White. More broadly, the book maps the formation of what we now identify as “documentary style,” showing how a marginalized genre associated with Progressive reform politics was transformed into a major component of modern art and public culture in America. The essays by Sharon Corwin, Jessica May, and Terri Weissman describe how each of these three photographers developed a different model of photography--as well as a particular understanding of modernism and modernity--which each believed would set the standard for future generations of artists. American Modern identifies the points where Abbott, Evans, and Bourke-White connected, diverged, and competed, and demonstrates how commercial and governmental commissions, the influence of mass media, the establishment of public institutions of modern art, and international theories of photography all intersected to establish the now-dominant documentary style.
Sharon Corwin, Carolyn Muzzy Director and Chief Curator at the Colby College Museum of Art, contributed to Alex Katz: Collages and Terry Winters: Prints and Sequences. Jessica May is Assistant Curator of Photographs at the Amon Carter Museum. Terri Weissman is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art & Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is the author of The Realisms of Berenice Abbott, forthcoming from UC Press.
“While acknowledging that Alfred Stieglitz's circle had earned the young medium a measure of artistic legitimacy, [Walker] Evans rejected his predecessor's airy, often abstract imagery. "American Modern: Documentary Photography by Abbott, Evans, and Bourke-White" . . . shows how this impulse paved the way for some of the 1930s' most famous photographs.”—Wall Street Journal
“As the title reveals, this book profiles the holy trinity of American documentary photographers, a distinct group of artists who came to prominence in the 1930s. . . . Photography students as well as amateur shutterbugs and black-and-white enthusiasts will enjoy this.”—Library Journal
“Well-written essays reveal the dark mood and deeply political roots of the documentary style and focus on each artist’s journey.”—Shutterbug
“American Modern is a welcome contribution to the field of American photography.”—Arlis/Na Reviews
“The text reads like an excellent conversation between three accomplished scholars, and works most effectively as a direct accompaniment to the exhibition.”—Choice
"With three smart essays and an incisive selection of pictures, American Modern
shows how the practice of documentary photography during the 1930s was more capacious and flexible than we ever thought. The opportunities to make and show pictures were everywhere, in photo books, magazine spreads, museum shows, and of course the New Deal programs. This book tells us how beloved documentarians like Abbott, Bourke-White, and Evans learned how to walk these many paths, sometimes with great delicacy and knowing, and along the way produce startling pictures. This is good stuff."—Anthony W. Lee, author of A Shoemaker’s Story
and founding editor of Defining Moments in American Photography