Henry Allen is a cultural critic at The Washington Post. His new book, What It Felt Like, will be published in the fall. (March 2000)

The Great Voyeur

In an age of the artist-as-exhibitionist, Walker Evans was a voyeur, peering at the world through the curtains of his hooded eyes, then taking his devastating, disinterested, and transcendent pictures and slipping away. “Stare,” he once said, recalling lessons learned from the cafés of Paris in the 1920s. “It is …

After My Suicide

“He’d seemed much better lately,” your friends said. Well, sure. After I knew I’d kill myself my world became a one-man inside joke— my clueless shrink, my restless bed, the loyal snapshots on my shelf made coy by my prospective masterstroke. No note, …

407 Highland Ave., Orange, N.J.

When I think of my grandfather’s house I think of my father looking pointedly serene in a boarding school photograph by the standup ashtray that squeaked in the giant living room that huddled under the brown and possible dusks of northern New Jersey, everything …

Strand’s Great Moment

Paul Strand made great photographs when he was in his twenties. He made good ones for the rest of his life. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has put five dozen of the great ones on view in a show called Paul Strand circa 1916. In the catalog, its curator, Maria …

Fall of the Falls

Niagara Falls was the orgasm of the nineteenth century, an exaltation celebrated the same way the Big O has been celebrated in the twentieth, and with the same cringe-making heartiness, too—from D.H. Lawrence’s Jesus shouting “I am risen!” in the 1920s to the video-porn wet shots now playing in VCRs …

A Billboard Lovely as a Tree

I thought I’d learned all about the Puritans’ take on advertising from accounts of Salem divines igniting the occasional witch as a public service announcement. I discovered I was wrong one day in the Cathedral at York. I was staring at the stump of a tiny vandalized statue of the …