In case casual readers thought they could flit randomly among the images in Walker Evans’s “American Photographs,” Lincoln Kirstein provided a cautionary note in all caps:THE REPRODUCTIONS PRESENTED IN THIS BOOK ARE INTENDED TO BE LOOKED AT IN THEIR GIVEN SEQUENCEThat might seem like unnecessary advice these days. But when the book was published in 1938 to accompany Mr. Evans’s groundbreaking solo show at the Museum of Modern Art, it was a resounding declaration. While his was by no means the first photography book published, it broke from convention to create a new type of collection, in which how the pictures were laid out, as much so as the order of words in a sentence, gave the work its meaning.
Look at the photos. They are, as we say, classic, monuments in photography.
That fact that “American Photographs” is now in its fifth edition — timed to accompany the new MoMA exhibition — speaks to its influence. But it also attests to the challenge Ms. Meister faced as she organized the new installation of the show. It’s easy enough to put Mr. Evans in the context of photographers whom he influenced. But she was more interested in how his work would play off that of postwar painters who redefined American iconography, like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Jackson Pollock.