Snapshots of Life

Evans’ photos, much like Agee’s words, are a tangle of children, places, grim faces, death and exhausted animals. It is easy to find patterns, but they are fragmented and littered with exceptions. While we cannot be sure that the photographs were organized with intent, it is assumed that, since the authors both had goals that they wished to convey to the audience, they were placed with care.

So maybe it is not patterns we are supposed to look for. But if not, then why? Humans naturally classify things into different categories; we do it when first examining the world (“This is a Dalmatian. A Dalmatian is a dog, which is an animal”) and we do it later when confronted with things that are unfamiliar. It is our way of making easy sense of a complicated and layered planet.

Perhaps Evans and Agee want to play on this tendency of humans to categorize; rather than allowing us to look at the photos, figure out the organizational method and dismiss them, they force us to examine and reexamine them, searching for a pattern or method. And in doing so, we devote enough time and attention to the photos to recognize, no, respect the weariness in the faces, the ramshackle buildings.

Another explanation for the apparent lack of organization is because a tangle of events and people and feelings is a truer representation of life than pictures divided by place, time or family. For an example of this, think back to an event you participated in over winter break. I for instance, went to Michigan to visit family. When thinking about it, I see Jake the poodle having a seizure, sugar cookies cut in the shapes of trees, and the hairy face of the Jew hating pastor at my Grandma’s church. Those aren’t in chronological order, divided by place or by family. Rather, they are a mix of my impressions and experiences, and they certainly do a better job of characterizing my vacation than a tidy, sectioned list.

And so that is what Evans and Agee do: they capture the lives of these families with snapshots of moments, places and beings that make up their experiences. And then they put them in an order that represents the blend of death, exhaustion, solitude, scruffiness and hope that is rampant in each family. Life isn’t organized, and so they don’t try to make it that way.

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