By Brian Docherty
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Extra info for American Crime Fiction: Studies in the Genre
But the most persuasive collaboration between photography and prose, and an essential document in understanding the relation between consciousness and imagination, is Walker Evans and James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. This too began as a commission for a Henry Luce publication; this time it was Fortune magazine, which sent Agee and Evans to spend July and August 1936 with the families of three white tenant 26 American Crime Fiction farmers in Alabama. Fortune turned down the article, and Agee's revised and expanded text and Evans's photographs were not finally published until 1941.
The immediate instruments are two: the motionless camera and the printed word. The governing instrument which is also one of the centers of the subject, is individual anti-authoritative human consciousness. 9 Throughout the book, Agee strains to define the privacy of that individual consciousness in perceiving 'the aesthetic reality within the actual world'. ' He continues, This is why the camera seems to me, next to unassisted and weaponless consciousness, the central instrument of our time; and is why I in turn feel such rage at its misuse, which has spread so nearly a universal corruption of sight that I know of less than a dozen alive whose eyes I can trust even as much as my own.
This existential insistence upon the unrelenting present is what gives the hard-boiled detective story its immediacy and force. What distinguishes the work of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler is their ability to write with the 'objectivity, economy, restraint' that Joseph Shaw, the editor of Black Mask, demanded, and, at the same time, to question the effect of this detachment upon their heroes and on the world in which they operated. 26 This is the description the Continental Op gives of the woman who later criticises him for doing no more than keeping his eyes open: The young woman got up, kicked a couple of newspapers out of her way, and came to me with one hand out.