Personal Choice

A Celebration of Twentieth Century Photographs
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1983

Contemplating in the mountains we have time to think. In the streets and in the thick of things a moment is no sooner registered than it is gone. Photographers, Cartier-Bresson in particular, caught spectacular instants and coped with the evanescent by ostentatiously fixing time. Robert Walker observing in New York, notes such moments but copes differently, with more of a shout than a glance. His favoured moments are gargantuan rather than decisive. A connoisseur of the present and the palpable, his pictures are rich in weighty matter: a heavy hand, wristwatch, ring and cuff, modishly macho, dapping at a powdered face and sequined lips – delicacy 90% overpowered by beef and teeth. Characteristically coarse and overstated, Walker’s pictures are, at the same time, witty as any ever taken in the history of the medium, forever in danger of lapsing into fastidious good taste, is periodically saved by the arrival of such brusque talents: Weegee re-discovered, Lisette Model, Arbus at the end of her tether. There are other contemporaries expert in a similar sort of sharp, looming aesthetic, but Walker has the irony, the wit, the eye for extremes at the moment of their meeting.

Ian Jeffrey