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Bucket Seat, Model T. Alabama, 1936
Penny Picture Display, Savannah, 1936
Construction Worker, Louisiana, 1936
Untitled (Women Talking), 1930s
Walker Evans was born in St Louis, Missouri on 3 November 1903. His father was a member of a successful advertising firm, and he had a comfortable upbringing. On graduating in 1922, from a private school in Andover, Massachusetts, he hoped to become a writer. He attended the prestigious Williams College, but dropped out after a year. In 1926, he moved to Paris to try and immerse himself in the avant-garde of the time. But he found that he couldn’t write a word and, after two years, returned to the United States.
Soon after, Evans turned to photography. He spent his early career photographing the streets of New York, experimenting with high and low angles, patterns of light and shadow and various compositions. He later published his first three prints of the Brooklyn Bridge, in the poet, Hart Crane’s book, The Bridge, in 1930.
Due to his inability to find steady work, Evans was living an impoverished life in New York City. However, in 1931, he was asked to photograph Victorian architecture, in Boston, Massachusetts, by the writer and patron of the arts, Lincoln Kirstein. Evans had to use an 8 x 10 view camera, a completely different piece of machinery from his usual 35mm Leica camera. He became absorbed in the project, being fastidious to all minor details concerning the outlook and feel of the photographs. Gaining some success, he was then sent to Cuba in 1933, to work on a reportage project about the country’s declining political conditions. It was in Cuba that he found the documentary calling that so acutely fitted his style.
Farm Security Administration
In 1935, Evans was hired as an information specialist by the Farm Security Administration, today known as the FSA, which developed aid programs for impoverished farmers during the Great Depression. Essentially the photographs taken were used as evidence of the extreme poverty in rural parts of the United States. Evans travelled through the mid-west and southern states, photographing, with precision, everything he saw. It was during this time that he created his most important and significant work, partly for the FSA and partly with the writer, James Agee, for Fortune magazine. The latter project resulted in the groundbreaking book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).
In 1938, one year after Evans had finished photographing for the FSA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York honoured Evans with a solo exhibition of his pictures – the first it had ever given to a photographer. The exhibition was called Walker Evans, American Photographs and included 100 of his photographs.
In 1938, Evans started a project on the subways of New York, using a concealed camera. He worked on this project until 1941 and, in 1943, went to work for TIME magazine as an art critic. In 1944 he moved to Fortune magazine as a staff photographer. Evans died on 10 April 1975 at his home in Old Lyme, Connecticut.