The Generic and the Individual—in neither lies America
After reading through this week's selections, and looking through the accompanying photographs, I found that the style of the photographs very much corresponded with the style of the writing. I saw the two extremes in the approaches taken by Ilf and Petrov in Ilf and Petrov's Great American Road Trip, which felt very unsentimental to me, and the emotional and elaborate approach of Agee and Evans in Let us Now Praise Famous Men. While the first seemed to be very factual, based on concrete observations and experiences relayed simply and straightforwardly, the other hid its narrative in declarations of emotion, feeling, and heart wrenching descriptions. The accompanying pictures fell in line with these approaches. Evans' pictures were very personal. Each photo showed either people or their direct place of habitation. They show close ups of pained, tired, and strong faces. They show individuals and families and convey personal hardships and feelings. Ilf and Petrov's photos by comparison hardly contain a single human form. They are of arbitrary locations—a street like any other, a gas station like any other, a crowd like any other. The only portrait is of a content and happy looking boy, an image that does not hold the ideological message that Evans' portraits do. Ilf and Petrov set out to find as broad an image of America as they could. Ultimately they found that America could not be summed up as just one cohesive thing, but still, their aim was toward the generic, and that is what their photos portray. Agee and Evans' work is as far away from generic as possible, not even addressing a general audience, but speaking directly to the subject, stating that the purpose is not toward art “worthy of The Saturday Review of Literature,” instead it must be true to the subject, and include the Anticlimax which “which happens in life of course, over and over again.” Evans' photos reflect this approach, he captures something unique about each subject, describing the lifestyle and personality particular to whomever lives in the room he captures, or whoever possesses the face he isolates.