John Tagg: "Knocking Around between Money, Sex, and Boredom": Walker Evans in Havana and New York City
Looking at forms of photographic practice not previously considered part of the history of photography, John Tagg writes about photography not as a self-contained medium but as a complex apparatus whose social effects and effects of meaning are multiple and diverse. From here, his interests have extended to the ways in which we construct histories of cultural technologies and visual regimes and to the range of theoretical debates that, since the 1970s, have transformed the methodologies of art history. Curator of the influential 1979 Hayward Gallery exhibition, Three Perspectives on Photography, Tagg's books include The Burden of Representation, Essays on Photographies and Histories, Grounds of Dispute: Art History, Cultural Politics and the Discursive Field, and The Disciplinary Frame: Photographic Truths and the Capture of Meaning. His writings have been translated into more than 15 languages. Born in the northeast of England, Tagg lives and works in Upstate New York, where he is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Art History at Binghamton University.
In a short memoir of his arrival in Havana written in July 1933 following his return from a 30-day trip to Cuba, Walker Evans thought back on his first meeting with the Cuban journalist José Antonio Fernandez de Castro. It was a meeting that had left him wondering, "Is this man knocking around between money, sex, and boredom, or has he something else up his sleeve?" Evans's question applies just as aptly to his own life at this time, raising issues largely kept at bay in writings on Evans that have an undeniable if hard to focus relationship to the understanding of his photographic work from this period. Moving between Havana and New York City, Tagg asks about the passage between work and biography, but also about the conjunction of sex and work and what is secured by the refusal to speak about it when looking at photographs by Evans.