Walker Evans–Photographs 1929 – 1970

Walker Evans is a well known American photographer who lived from 1903 – 1975. This book, with an introduction by John Szarkowski, shows a selection of images made between 1929 and 1970. Evans is probably best known for his work with the Resettlement Administration of the US Government in the depression of the 1930’s in which he documented the living and working conditions in America. He says that he recorded everything that attracted him which ended up as record of the period. In 1938 he embarked on a project with writer James Agee to record the lives of sharecroppers which became the critically acclaimed book “Let us now Praise Famous Men”. Of the book he said that it could be seen as a social protest although this was not his intention. He “just liked saying what’s what”. I would fit Evans work into the social documentary category.  Evans can be heard talking about his work in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlXfbixbGG8

He also says photography is “a difficult act…. almost accidental, akin to hunting”

While reading this book, I also watched the film “Nebraska” directed by Alexander Payne which is filmed in black and white. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebraska_(film) . Although filmed and set in present day Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, some of the landscapes, farms and abandoned buildings are very much in the style that Evans used to portray rural America in the thirties. That seems to be his visual legacy. John Szarkowski, in his introduction to the collection says “…Individually, the photographs of Walker Evans evoke an incontrovertible sense of specific places. Collectively, they evoke the sense of America.”

 

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This portrait of Floyd Burroughs is included in the collection and is one from the book he produced with James Agee. What I find disturbing about this image is the intense stare of the man which almost dares you to feel sorry for him and the situation he and his family are in.

 

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This image, although not in the book, shows just how Evans photographed what attracted him, this image says so much about the times. In recession, the contents of the second-hand shop displays reflect the re-alignment of what is important and of value to ordinary people.

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