In 1977, two young artists living in the San Francisco Bay Area, both recently out of art school, published a book of photographs they had found in the files of local corporations, government agencies, and research institutions. Somehow, through a combination of innocence and bravado, the two persuaded the guardians of those files, who were perhaps, in retrospect, even more innocent, to let the visitors in and not only see what was there but take some of it away with them—often for free. In many cases, these keepers of publicity shots and librarians of research files were persuaded not only by the seriousness of the two men, but by a letter on government stationery stating that they had received government funds to pursue a research project and would be granted an exhibition at an honorable museum where the materials they found would be displayed. They called this book and its accompanying show Evidence.
Today we are more accustomed to seeing pictures plucked from their original context and put on the wall of a museum or published as objects of artistic value, all without identifying or instructional text. At the time Evidence was published, however, such a decontextualized presentation of photography, especially photographs made for the purpose of record, was a new phenomenon and directed toward a still relatively tiny audience—those interested in photography as a kind of art. Yet the book proved to be a modest bombshell. It was elusive and poetic, it needed the viewer’s active thought and engagement, it was not strictly speaking political, in those most political of times, and it was a challenge to those who thought they knew what art photographs looked like. Thanks to a renewed interest in conceptualism, and now also a regard for photography’s central role in contemporary art, this modest book now seems premonitory rather than dated or quaint. Its republication is a tribute to the continued resonance of these pictures. Read More