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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Walker Evans

Dates:  1903, 3 November - 1975, 10 April
Born:  US, MO, St. Louis
Died:  US, CT, New Haven
Active:  US
 
  
American photographer who is best known for his social and documentary work.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Walker Evans
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

 
  
Walker Evans is one of the most celebrated American photographers. During the Great Depression of the 1930's, he worked for the American government’s Farm Security Administration programme, and created some of the most potent and memorable images of the era. His documentary style focussed on the details of individual human lives in unforgiving circumstances. "I am for man’s work", he said; "nature bores me as an art form". Evans went on to take pictures of people on the New York subway using a hidden camera, a series on tools and Polaroid images of rural and urban Americana. 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

Biography provided by Focal Press 
  
The Godfather of large format American 20th century documentary photography, who was committed to straight, unadorned, black and white documentation. He established his transparent, unheroic, clinical style as a photographer for the Farm Security Administration (1935–1938). His book American Photographs (1938) established the idea that looking at photographs in a book is fundamentally different than looking at photographs on the wall and that how the photographs were sequenced was critical in establishing meaning. It also revealed his affection for photographing signs (text), which often self-labeled the photograph. Evans’ self-effacing approach with its edge of pessimism, made people believe in the power of the plain photograph. His second book with James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), was illustrated with Evans’ unsentimental portraits of Alabama sharecroppers. His puritanical objectivity and economy of composition made the hardship of their situation self-evident yet preserved their dignity. From 1945 to 1965 he was a staff writer and photographer for Fortune. 
  
(Author: Robert Hirsch - Independent scholar and writer) 
  
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 
  

HomeContents > Further research

 
  
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General reading 
  
Beals, Carleton, 1933, The Crime of Cuba, (J. B. Lippincott Company) [Photographs by Walker Evans] [Δ
  
Guimond, James, 1991, American Photography and the American Dream, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press) [Δ
  
Papageorge, Tod, 1981, Walker Evans & Robert Frank: An Essay on Influence, (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Art Gallery) [Δ
  
Stange, Maren, 1989, Symbols of Ideal Life: Social Documentary Photography in America 1890-1950, (Cambridge University Press) isbn-10: 0521324416 isbn-13: 978-0521324410 [Δ
  
 
  
Readings on, or by, individual photographers 
  
Agee, James & Evans, Walker, 1941, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company) [Δ
  
Agee, James & Evans, Walker, 2001, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company) [Δ
  
Campany, David, 2012, Walker Evans: The Magazine Work, (Steidl) isbn-10: 3869302593 isbn-13: 978-3869302591 [Δ
  
Codrescu, Andrei, 1998, Walker Evans: Signs, (J. Paul Getty Museum) isbn-10: 0892363762 isbn-13: 978-0892363766 [Δ
  
Codrescu, Andrei, 2011, Walker Evans: Cuba, (J. Paul Getty Museum) isbn-10: 1606060643 isbn-13: 978-1606060643 [2nd edition. Introduction by Judith Keller] [Δ
  
Evans, Walker, 1938, Walker Evans: American Photographs, (New York: Museum of Modern Art) [Δ
  
Evans, Walker, 1966, First and Last, (New York: The Eakins Press) [Δ
  
Evans, Walker, 1978, Message from the Interior, (Harper & Row, Publishers) [Δ
  
Evans, Walker, 2012, Walker Evans: American Photographs. Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Edition, (New York: MOMA Publications) isbn-13: 978-0870708350 [Essay by Lincoln Kirstein. Introduction by Sarah Meister] [Δ
  
Evans, Walker & Agee, James (introduction), 1966, Many Are Called, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin) [Δ
  
Galassi, Peter, 2000, Walker Evans & Company, (Harry N Abrams) isbn-10: 0810962063 isbn-13: 978-0810962064 [Δ
  
Greenough, Sarah, 1991, Walker Evans: Subways and Streets, (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art) [Δ
  
Hambourg, Maria Morris; Rosenheim, Jeff L.; Eklund, Douglas & Fineman, Mia, 2000, Walker Evans, (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Princeton: In association with Princeton University Press) [Δ
  
Hill, John T., 2006, Walker Evans: Lyric Documentary, (Steidl) isbn-10: 3865210228 isbn-13: 978-3865210227 [Δ
  
Keller, Judith, 1995, Walker Evans: The Getty Museum Collection, (Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum) [Δ
  
Mora, Gilles, 2004, Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye, (New York: Harry N. Abrams) [Δ
  
Rathbone, Belinda, 2000, Walker Evans: A Biography, (Boston: Houghton Mif?in Co.) [Δ
  
Rosenheim, Jeff, 2002, Walker Evans Polaroids, (New York: in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Zurich: Scalo) [Δ
  
Rosenheim, Jeff & Eklund, Douglas, 2000, Unclassified: a Walker Evans Anthology, (New York: in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Zurich: Scalo. 2000.) [Δ
  
Rosenheim, Jeff L., 2009, Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard, (Steidl & Partners) [Δ
  
Szarkowski, J., 1971, Walker Evans, (New York: Museum of Modern Art) [Δ
  
Webb, Virginia-Lee, 2000, Perfect Documents Walker Evans and African Art, 1935, (Metropolitan Museum of Art) isbn-10: 0300086814 isbn-13: 978-0300086812 [Δ
  
 
  
If you feel this list is missing a significant book or article please let me know - Alan - alan@luminous-lint.com
 
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Edwin Locke
Walker Evans 
n.d.
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
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Exhibitions on this website

20th century masters
ThumbnailWalker Evans 
Title | Lightbox | Checklist
 
  

Visual indexes

ThumbnailWalker Evans: A Couple, from Brooklyn Amusement Park
ThumbnailWalker Evans: African Negro Arts (1935)
ThumbnailWalker Evans: Alabama, Greensboro
ThumbnailWalker Evans: American Photographs
ThumbnailWalker Evans: Churches
ThumbnailWalker Evans: Cuba
ThumbnailWalker Evans: Dress
ThumbnailWalker Evans: FSA - Farm Security Administration
ThumbnailWalker Evans: In Bridgeport’s War Factories
ThumbnailWalker Evans: Main Street, Saratoga Springs
ThumbnailWalker Evans: Penny Picture Display, Savannah, Georgia
ThumbnailWalker Evans: Prison work gang
ThumbnailWalker Evans: Signs
ThumbnailWalker Evans: Street photography
ThumbnailWalker Evans: Subway portraits
ThumbnailWalker Evans: The Burroughs family
 
All photographs by this photographer 
  
 
  

Supplemental information

 

Walker Evans
American, 1903-1975

Walker Evans began photographing seriously in 1928. After returning from Europe at the age of twenty-four he found himself in New York where his passion for photography was ignited. While experimenting with different photographic styles, Evans created images of a variety of subjects from very abstract architectural work to what at the time was cutting edge street photography. He made many images that many people felt paved the way for future photographers such as Robert Frank and Gary Winogrand.
 
In the early 1930s Evans moved on to a new project which would help develop his documentary style. He spent time in New England photographing Victorian homes for an exhibition to coincide with the publication of a book on 19th century architecture. This is where Evans first began using a large format camera. Later Evans was asked by publisher J.P. Lippencott to produce photographs to illustrate a book about Cuba by radical journalist Carleton Beals. Evans spent three weeks in Havana creating images which continued to solidify his style, but the work that would define Evans and forever place him in the consciousness of the American public was soon to follow.
 
After a period of time spent photographing throughout the South Evans began photographing for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1935. Evans, along with other photographers like Dorothea Lange and Russell Lee, was hired by the government to document the lives of the American farmer during the 1930s. In his photographs of crumbling farm towns and faces etched with despair and hope we can still see and feel today the depths of The Great Depression. This work was so powerful that it helped to educate an entire nation about the plight of the American farmer.
 
While photographing for the FSA Evans also had several bodies of work published in Fortune magazine and this was to begin an association out of which would come his largest body of work. In 1941 when America was gearing up its war effort, Evans was asked by Fortune to photograph the many factories making arms and munitions in Bridgeport, CT. The Bridgeport series was stylistically reminiscent of his earlier street photographs made in New York, but like his deeply moving work done for the FSA Evans managed to show us the complex human face of the American worker. Evans stayed with Fortune until 1965 when he took a teaching position at Yale University. He continued to teach, photograph, exhibit and publish his work until his death in 1975.
 
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 
  
 

Internet biographies

Terms and Conditions

 
Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.]Show on this siteGo to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography.Show on this siteGo to website
 

Internet resources

Terms and Conditions

 
Walker Evans 
http://memory.loc.gov ... 
  
Walker Evans 
http://memory.loc.gov ... 
  
National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.) 
http://www.nga.gov 
Has major collections of Harry Callahan, Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank, Irving Penn and Alfred Stieglitz. There are a number of exhibitions on-line but to locate the holdings for an individual photographer you need to use the search options 
  
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
  
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.166 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.178-179 
  
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
  
• Fernandez, Horacio (ed.) 2000 Fotografía Pública: Photography in Print 1919-1939 (Aldeasa) p.95-97 [This Spanish exhibition catalogue is one of the best sources for illustrations of photomontage and book design for the period between the two World Wars.] 
  
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.215 [Includes a well written short biography on Walker Evans with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
  
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Walker Evans.] 
  
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.456 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
  
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.135-136 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.247 
  
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.169, 184, 216 
  
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.144-147] 
  
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Walker Evans are included in this classic history.] 
  
• Sobieszek, Robert A. and Deborah Irmas 1994 the camera i: Photographic Self-Portraits (Los Angeles: LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art) p.215, Plate 215 [When the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection was donated to LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992 the museum gained a remarkable collection of self portraits of notable photographers. If you need a portrait of Walker Evans this is a useful starting point.] 
  
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.116 [Analyzes a single photograph by Walker Evans.] 
  

Collections

Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 
  

 
In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Walker Evans was represented in 116 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
  
Library of Congress, Washington, USA 
  
Approximate number of records: 563 
Note: A single record may contain more than one photograph.
Click here
 

Quotations

The wit and wisdom.

 
"The meaning of quality in photography‘s best pictures lies written in the language of vision. That language is learned by chance, not system."
"Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts."
 
  
 
  
 
  
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