Walker Evans

"The photographer is usually a joyous sensualist for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts."

- Walker Evans, 1969

Walker Evans was an American photographer known for his documentary-style images of life in the U.S.A. His stirring portraits of the depression era have become iconic images in the cannon of 20th century art.

Evans grew up in Kenilworth, a suburb of Chicago. As a young man, Evans dreamed of becoming a writer. He studied literature at William College, Massachusetts for a year prior to moving to Paris in 1926, where he audited courses at the Sorbonne. In 1928 Evans returned to America settling in New York where he was absorbed into a tight circle of literary and artistic types. While he had begun to take photographs in Paris, he entered into serious experimentation in 1928. By 1930 he’d had three photographs published. The development of his descriptive/documentary style had already begun to emerge. The work of French 19th century photographer Eugene Atget became a strong and lasting influence.

During the 1930’s Walker took on a variety of projects and commissions. He was hired to take photographs in Cuba for a publication, Citizen in Downtown Havana and to photograph African art for the Museum of Modern Art, Figure Surmounting a Calabash, Belgian Congo, Urua. Perhaps the most significant project he took on was the work he did for the Resettlement Administration (later to become the Farm Security Administration) who hired him to document the southern United States with the intention of informing urban citizens of the plight of rural poor, Houses and Street in the Negro Quarter, Tupelo, Mississippi. This project would lead him to collaborate with James Agee, a long time friend, on a book focusing on the tenant farmers of the Southern United States, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” Many of Walker’s images included in the book such as Tenant Farmer's Wife, Alabama have become lasting visual testaments to the hardships of the 1930’s American depression.

In 1943 Evans would pursue his desire to become a full time writer, accepting a job a Time Magazine; however by 1945 he reverted back to photography working for Fortune Magazine as an associate editor. In 1965 he became a professor of photography at the Yale University.

His career is distinguished with important exhibitions including major shows at the Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. His awards are numerous and include a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1959 and in 1968 an honorary degree from Williams College and a fellowship in the American Academy of Arts and letters.

© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art