Another name from the list of great Photographers – one I’ve never seen or heard of before. When seeing his images, it does remind me to start blogging about some more contemporary photographers soon – even though the Black and White images never seem to bore me.
Walker Evans was born on the 3rd of November 1903 in St. Louis, Missouri to an affluent family. He graduated from Phillips Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts. He studied French literature for a year at Williams College, spending much of his time in the school’s library, before dropping out. After spending a year in Paris, he returned to the United States to join the edgy literary and art crowd in New York City.
Evans took up photography in 1928 around the time he was living in Ossining, NY . In 1933, he photographed in Cuba on assignment for the publisher of Carleton Beals’ then-forthcoming book, The Crime of Cuba, photographing the revolt against the dictator Gerardo Machado. In 1935, Evans spent two months on a fixed-term photographic campaign for the Resettlement Administration (RA) in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. From October on, he continued to do photographic work for the RA and later the Farm Security Administration (FSA), primarily in the Southern United States.
In the summer of 1936, while still working for the FSA, he and writer James Agee were sent by Fortune magazine on assignment to Hale County, Alabama, for a story the magazine subsequently opted not to run. In 1941, Evans’s photographs and Agee’s text detailing the duo’s stay with three white tenant families in southern Alabama during the Great Depression were published as the groundbreaking book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Its detailed account of three farming families paints a deeply moving portrait of rural poverty. Noting a similarity to the Beals’ book, the critic Janet Malcolm, in her 1980 book Diana & Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography, has pointed out the contradiction between a kind of anguished dissonance in Agee’s prose and the quiet, magisterial beauty of Evans’s photographs of sharecroppers.
The three families headed by Bud Fields, Floyd Burroughs and Frank Tingle, lived in the Hale County town of Akron, Alabama. Evans’s photographs of the families made them icons of Depression-Era misery and poverty. Charles Burroughs, who was four years old when Evans and Agee visited the family, was “still angry” in 2005 for them not even sending the family a copy of the book; the son of Floyd Burroughs was also reportedly angry because the family was “cast in a light that they couldn’t do any better, that they were doomed, ignorant”.
Evans continued to work for the FSA until 1938. An exhibition, Walker Evans: American Photographs, was held at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. This was the first exhibition in this museum devoted to the work of a single photographer. In the same year, he also took his first photographs in the New York subway with a camera hidden in his coat. These would be collected in book form in 1966 under the title Many are Called.
He became a staff writer at Time magazine in 1945 and shortly afterwards an editor at Fortune magazine. In 1965, he became a professor of photography on the faculty for Graphic Design at the Yale University School of Art (formerly the Yale School of Art and Architecture). In one of his last photographic projects, Evans completed a black and white portfolio of Brown Brothers Harriman’s offices and partners for publication in “Partners in Banking,” published in 1968 to celebrate the private bank’s 150th anniversary.
Evans died at his home in Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975.
Since 1994, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the sole copyright holder for all works of art in all media by Walker Evans. The only exception is a group of approximately 1,000 negatives in collection of the Library of Congress which were produced for the Resettlement Administration (RA) / Farm Security Administration (FSA).
Much of Evans’s work from the FSA period uses the large-format, 8×10-inch camera. He said that his goal as a photographer was to make pictures that are “literate, authoritative, transcendent”.Evans, like such other photographers as Henri Cartier-Bresson, rarely spent time in the darkroom making prints from his own negatives. He only very loosely supervised the making of prints of most of his photographs, sometimes only attaching handwritten notes to negatives with instructions on some aspect of the printing procedure.
My favourite images: