Walker Evans

Art on this Day

 

The American photographer Walker Evans died on this day in 1975.

 

Walker Evans (November 3, 1903 – April 10, 1975) was a photographer and photojournalist best known for his work for the Farm Security Administration documenting the effects of the Great Depression. Much of Evans's work uses the large-format, 8x10-inch camera. He said that his goal as a photographer was to make pictures that are "literate, authoritative, transcendent". Many of his works are in the permanent collections of museums and have been the subject of retrospectives at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and at George Eastman House. His most characteristic pictures show quotidian American life during the second quarter of the century, especially through the description of its vernacular architecture, its outdoor advertising, the beginnings of its automobile culture, and its domestic interiors.

 

In May and June 1933, Evans took photographs in Cuba on assignment for Lippincott, the publisher of Carleton Beals' The Crime of Cuba (1933). There Evans drank nightly with Ernest Hemingway, who loaned him money to extend his two-week stay an additional week. His photographs documented street life, police, beggars and other waterfront scenes. Evans also helped Hemingway acquire photos from newspaper archives that documented some of the political violence Hemingway described in To Have and Have Not (1937). Fearing that his photographs might be deemed critical of the government and confiscated by Cuban authorities, he left 46 prints with Hemingway. He had no difficulties when returning to the United States, and 31 of his photos appeared in Beals' book. The cache of prints left with Hemingway was discovered in Havana in 2002 and exhibited at an exhibition in Key West. In 1938 the exhibition, Walker Evans: American Photographs, was held at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. This was the first exhibition in the museum devoted to the work of a single photographer. The catalogue included an accompanying essay by Lincoln Kirstein, whom Evans had befriended in his early days in New York.

 

In 1938, Evans 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. 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.

 

Evans was a passionate reader and writer, and in 1945 became a staff writer at Time magazine. Shortly afterward he became an editor at Fortune magazine through 1965. That year, he became a professor of photography at the Yale University School of Art.

 

Walker Evans 1937-02.jpg

 

The first definitive retrospective of his photographs, which "individually evoke an incontrovertible sense of specific places, and collectively a sense of America," according to a press release, was on view at New York's Museum of Modern Art in the exhibition “Walker Evans”, in early 1971. Evans died in 1975 and since 1994 The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the sole copyright holder for all works of art in all media by Walker Evans.