James Agee
[Writer, b. 1909, Knoxville, Tennessee, d. 1955, New York.]

 The artist’s task is not to alter the world as the eye sees it into a world of aesthetic reality, but to perceive the aesthetic reality within the actual reality. (On photographs by Helen Levitt) 
 The camera seems to me, next to unassisted and weaponless consciousness, the central instrument of our time. 
 JAMES AGEE: a spy, traveling as a journalist.
WALKER EVANS: a counter-spy, traveling as a photographer.
(Self-descriptions in the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men)  
 Walker [Evans] setting up the terrible structure of the tripod crested by the black square heavy head, dangerous as that of a hunchback, of the camera; stooping beneath cloak and cloud of wicked cloth, and twisting buttons; a witchcraft preparing, colder than keenest ice, and incalculably cruel. (On Walker Evans photographing three tenant farmer families in Hale County, Alabama, 1936) 
 The camera is just a machine, which records with impressive and as a rule very cruel faithfulness. 
 As small, quick, foolproof cameras became generally available, moreover, the camera has been used so much and so flabbily by so many people that it has acted as a sort of contraceptive on the ability to see. 
 In the immediate world, everything is to be discerned... with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is. 
 It is clear enough by now to most people that “the camera never lies” is a foolish saying. Yet it is doubtful whether most people realize how extraordinarily slippery a liar the camera is. 
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