Walker Evans Photographs Leon Edel, New Haven, Connecticut, 1972(?)

By Benjamin Goluboff

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Evans, whose object would have been
to draw the biographer’s attention away
from the business of being photographed,
might have asked Edel to interpret
Eliot’s encomium on James:
that he had “a mind so fine
no idea could penetrate it.”

Edel, distinctly self-conscious,
might have laughed this off
as modernist hagiography,
allowed as how James
had plenty of big ideas:
Innocence, Europe, Art.

They might have gone
back and forth,
each with an inward
pang of bad faith,
about Gilbert Osmond
and the immorality
of the collector.

Drifting up a gradient of light
unseen by his subject,
Evans might have remarked
on James’s silences and omissions,
his way of placing things
outside the frame.
Miles in Turn of the Screw:
we never learn why
he’s sent home from school.

And we never learn,
the biographer might have replied,
what the Newsomes manufacture,
in The Ambassadors,
that’s made them so rich.

There is a moment here
(Evans catches it)
when Edel is completely
outside of himself,
and smiles faintly.

Benjamin Goluboff