This comprehensive retrospective is the first to survey the work of American
photographer Walker Evans (1903–1975). Evans’s extraordinary career
spanned five decades, from the late 1920s to the early 1970s. He is best
known for his keenly intelligent images documenting the Great Depression
in the American South. His photographs also addressed a number of other
themes: the Brooklyn Bridge, riders on the New York subways, Victorian
architecture in New England, pedestrians in Detroit and Chicago, and signs
and buildings along the roadways of America.
Evans sought subjects that expressed the essence of America. Rejecting
artifice and artiness, he created spare, classically styled pictures. His stated
goal for his work was to be “literate, authoritative, transcendent.” The
resulting work offers an unmatched study of American culture in the middle
decades of the 20th century.
Evans developed his distinctive pictorial style during the late 1920s, making
photographs in and around New York City. In the early 1930s, he
photographed in Cuba for Carleton Beals's book The Crime of Cuba
(1933). Evans worked for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal
Resettlement Administration (later known as the Farm Security
Administration) in 1935 to 1937, creating documentary photographs in
Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
In 1936, Evans collaborated with writer James Agee to create a portrait of
three tenant-farming families in Hale County, Alabama. The outcome was
the seminal book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, published in 1941. In
1938, the Museum of Modern Art in New York exhibited Evans’s work and
published an accompanying catalogue, American Photographs, which also
became a classic and remains in print.
Working in association with Time magazine (1943–45) and later with Fortune
(1945–65), Evans produced some 40 portfolios and photographic essays.
In the early 1970s, he turned to the just-released sx-70 Polaroid instant
camera, revisiting some of his earlier themes with a new technology.
This retrospective brilliantly reveals Evans’s profound, direct, and
unsentimental portrayal of American society throughout several decades of
the 20th century.
Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1931
gelatin silver photograph
the Museum of Modern Art, New York