Fine Art Photography Series
Walker Evans

Biography of American Photographer.

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For a short account of how early
camera technology developed,
see: the History of Photography

Walker Evans (1903-75)


Walker Evans's Photography
Other Famous Camera Artists

For a brief explanation of technical
and historical terms, please see:
Art Photography Glossary.

Compare American Gothic (1930)
the iconic painting by Grant Wood.

Walker Evans's Photography

One of the greatest photographers of the 1930s, the American camera artist Walker Evans reinvented the photographic documentary, endowing it with an aesthetic that gave it a new sophistication. A photo chronicler of American everyday culture after 1930, he mastered the straight documentary style and made the banal beautiful. Undoubtedly, his most famous contribution to American Art was for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), during the Great Depression, when he photographed the effects of the economic downturn on ordinary people. His masterpiece is probably Alabama Tenant Farmer Wife (1936, silver print, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), a portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs, which first appeared in his book Let us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), produced in collaboration with James Agee, when on assignment in Hale County, Alabama, for Fortune Magazine. It was taken the same year that Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) produced her similar and equally famous photo Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California. [Please see also: Ben Shahn (1898-1969) and the Social Realism movement.] Another well known photograph by Evans, is Penny Picture Display, Savannah, Georgia (1936, Museum of Modern Art, New York). In this composition of a window display of a local photographer's studio, Evans endows the anonymously democratic community of subjects, with an enduring sense of history. His elegant crystal-clear photography influenced a wide range of camera artists, including Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, as well as Bernd and Hilla Becher, the influential founders of the Dusseldorf School. The progenitor of the documentary in American photography, Evans had the exceptional ability to see the present as if it were already the past and to translate that vision into enduring art. His main subject was the vernacular - the portrayal of people found in roadside stands, cheap cafes, simple hallways, and small town streets. For five decades, from the late 1920s to the early 1970s, Evans pictorialized the American scene, creating a catalogue of modern America in the making.

Important Picture: "Portrait of a Sharecropping Familiy in Alabama" (1936)
Photographed by Walker Evans.
Published in "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" by James Agee.


Youth in Toledo (Ohio), Chicago, and New York. Studies literature at Williams College. Various casual jobs in New York. 1926, moves to Paris with the aim of becoming a writer. Contact with circle around Sylvia Beach (including James Joyce).

1927, returns to New York. To 1929, works for a firm of stockbrokers. Friendship with Lincoln Kirstein. First photos with a small roll-film camera. Three photos in a volume of poetry The Bridge his first publication. Discovers the oeuvre of the French documentary photographer Eugene Atget (1857-1927). 1931, series on Victorian villas in the south. 1933, in Havana: photos for the book The Crime of Cuba. For the Museum of Modern Art, photo documentation of the exhibition African Negro Art.

Like his younger contemporary, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), Evans spent little time making prints in the darkroom and he showed little inclination to supervise the actual technical production of his photographs.

1935-1937, works as photographer for the Resettlement Administration (RA) and Farm Security Administration (FSA). 1936, reportage on small farmers in Alabama with the writer James Agee for Fortune (published joint book: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1941). 1938: American Photographs Museum of Modern Art's first monographed exhibition. First photographs in the subway.

For other portrait photographers, see: Annie Leibovitz (b.1949). For a modern photographer noted for his photographs of refugees, see: Steve McCurry (b.1950).

1945-1965, photo editor, photographer for Fortune. American industrial landscapes (around 1950). 1965-1974, professor at Yale School of Art and Architecture. Exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1971, curated by John Szarkowski) his last big show during his lifetime. 2000, major retrospective in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, with complementary exhibition project in Museum of Modern Art: "Walker Evans & Company".

For a brief discussion of the aesthetics and evolution of lens-based art, see: Is Photography Art?

Selected Exhibitions

Unless stated all shows are solo events.

1931 New York (John Becker Gallery)
1932 New York (Julien Levy Gallery - 1935) group exhibition
1933 New York (Museum of Modern Art - 1938, 1962, 1966, 1971, 1976)
1948 Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago - 1964)
1966 New York (Robert Schoelkopf Gallery - 1971, 1973, 1974, 1977)
1981 San Francisco (Fraenkel Gallery)
1990 Munich (Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus)
2000 New York Metropolitan Museum of Art)
2002 Cologne (Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur)
2003 London (The Photographers' Gallery)
2004 Cologne (Galerie Thomas Zander)
2004 Paris (Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson - 2008)
2005 Ann Arbor (Michigan, USA) University of Michigan Museum of Art)
2006 Cagliari (Italy) (Convento di San Michele)
2007 Florence (Museo Nazionale Alinari della Fotografia)
2008 Paris (Musee du Quai Branly)
2009 Winterthur (Fotomuseum)

In 1994, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) acquired the copyright for all works of art in all media by Walker Evans, with the exception of his RA/FSA works held in the collection of the Library of Congress.

Photographs by Walker Evans are regularly exhibited in some of the best galleries of contemporary art across America.



Profiles of Other Famous Camera Artists

In addition to those photographers mentioned above, here is a short list of the best known camera artists of the 19th/20th century.

19th-Century Photographers (1800-1900).
Edward Steichen (1879-1973) Pictorialist
Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) Precisionist
Edward Weston (1886-1958) Still life photographer
Man Ray (1890-1976) Dada, fashion photographer
Paul Strand (1890-1976) Straight photography
Ansel Adams (1902-84) Wilderness landscapes
Robert Capa (1913-54) War photojournalist
Irving Penn (1917-2009) Fashion photography
Richard Avedon (1923-2004) Fashion, portraits, documentary photos

• For more about documentary-style photography, see: Homepage.
• For other camera art forms, see: Animation and Video Art.

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