Make us your home page

Walker Evans' Florida photos from the early '40s and the words that ran with them



Craig Pittman yesterday pointed to this in his rich Twitter feed. Today I ordered a hard copy. In the meantime, though, I read it on my computer screen, and here are the parts I found most interesting in what Robert Plunket wrote:

1. ... I've learned a lot about Florida. It really is different down here -- the way it looks, the weather, the social patterns, the brand-newness of the place. Everybody comes from somewhere else, which means he has secrets from his past back in Dayton, and in a number of cases those secrets involve former wives who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. An amazing number of people blow into town, make a splashy name for themselves, and then are arrested. The buying and selling of real estate is the dominant industry. Indeed, it could be said that the real estate ad is the principal form of literature here.

2. If the phrase "west coast of Florida" is drawing a blank in your mind, don't worry: even people on the east coast of Florida don't know much about it. You grow up on one coast and spend your entire life there, without going to the other. One reaason is the journey itself, an endless drive through swamp or sugarcane or cattle ranches. The only human settlements are migrant-worker and prison camps. The message is clear: behave, or you'll end up in the middle of the state.

3. Next comes Tampa itself. On the surface it seems to be a large commercial center of no particular interest, but the more you study it, the more it becomes very interesting indeed.

4. St. Petersburg, across the bay, functions as a glum Brooklyn to Tampa's Manhattan.

5. Tampa and St. Pete registered as group portraits of grim, elderly women.

6. The story of Sarasota and the circus is a sad one, particularly because it began so happily.

7. If you live here for any length of time, the pelican becomes about as interesting as the squirrel.

8. The Mangrove Coast was published in 1942 and was a big hit -- except for the pictures. They just didn't mesh with the text. Bickel was dispensing popular history at its most eager-to-please, full of "lore" about pirates and explorers and moonshiners. The photographs supplied by Evans were about something else entirely.

9. If they show anything, it is that artificiality is many layers deep.

[Last modified: Thursday, January 23, 2014 8:09pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours