Fi­nal Anal­y­sis

Amateur Photographer - - Final Analysis - Roger Hicks con­sid­ers… ‘Mike Evans, welder, April 1943,’ by Jack De­lano

Jack De­lano, 1914-1997, is one of my favourite pho­tog­ra­phers; and for­tu­nately, a great deal of his work is avail­able at the US Li­brary of Congress, be­cause of the work he did for the US Govern­ment. This is typ­i­cal of his por­trai­ture: his son de­scribed it as ‘one hu­man bar­ing its soul to another.’

Ev­ery­thing in it is of its time: the clothes, the weld­ing gear, the wood-sided wagon with its faded Chicago and North West­ern Line logo. It is also time­less, though, be­cause it shows all that it needs to show, and no more. Each of the three prin­ci­pal com­po­nents is cropped by the edge of the frame, with even Mr Evans cropped off at the knees. The last is a real no-no in the eyes of an old-fash­ioned cam­era club judge, who might also take ex­cep­tion to the ab­so­lute cen­tral­ity of the fig­ure in the frame. Where are the thirds, the lead­ing lines, the dy­namic di­ag­o­nals? Well, some of them are there if you want to look for them and im­pose your pre­con­cep­tions, but they are not needed. Ev­ery­thing flows out from the cen­tral fig­ure: he is the rea­son for the pic­ture.

Bet­ter to look at the de­tails. Be­gin with his di­rect stare, even if he looks a bit puz­zled: why me? Then re­flect that De­lano chose a low view­point, lit­er­ally look­ing up to his sub­ject. He is not tak­ing a pic­ture; he is humbly ac­cept­ing it. Look at the pro­pri­eto­rial arm rest­ing on the trol­ley for the gas cylin­ders, and at the weld­ing torch it­self draped over his shoul­der. Would you nor­mally carry a weld­ing torch like that? I don’t know. But it looks nat­u­ral and un­af­fected, and in pro­pa­ganda pho­tog­ra­phy above all, this is what mat­ters. The re­in­forc­ing bars on the wagon ra­di­ate from his strong right hand and the steps to its roof climb up from his shoul­der. The work-pol­ished steel of the wheel of the gas trol­ley and the lightly rusted cylin­der speak of un­pre­ten­tious and some­how cu­ri­ously real work.

Learn­ing by look­ing

Did De­lano, only 28 years old at the time, think about all this con­sciously when he took the pic­ture? Al­most cer­tainly not. Like most of us, he prob­a­bly thought, ‘Well, I don’t want this in the way, and I don’t want too much of that, and if I’m not care­ful...’

On the other hand, his artis­tic stud­ies went far be­yond pho­tog­ra­phy. His ed­u­ca­tion at the Penn­syl­va­nia Academy of Fine Arts in­cluded a four-month Euro­pean tour on a Cres­son Trav­el­ing Schol­ar­ship where he be­came in­creas­ingly fas­ci­nated by de­pic­tions of hard-work­ing labour­ers through­out his­tory. He learned his craft by look­ing, and later by do­ing; and if you want to be a pho­tog­ra­pher, there aren’t re­ally many al­ter­na­tives.

‘He chose a low view­point, lit­er­ally look­ing up to his sub­ject. He is not tak­ing a pic­ture; he is ac­cept­ing it’

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