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Hoffman
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Charles Hoffman
Patrick Keough
Walker Evans
Date: 30 August 2005
Walker Evans
1903-1975
Walker Evans was one of the leaders in the development of America documentary and
photojournalism. His straightforward style without addition props has stood the test of time. He
would not allow his pictures to be altered but published as the subjects appeared.
He was born in 1903 in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in Chicago, Illinois. The family
later moved to New York City and Evans attended a boarding prep school in upstate New York
where his grades were failing. He returned to New York and attended public school than later
Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. He attended Williams College in Massachusetts for one
year but due to poor grades in Latin, he did not return. He had wanted to continue his studies in
Paris but his father would not support him going abroad to study. He returned to New York and
worked in the New York public library and tried to get a career started being a writer. After three
years, his father finally allowed him to go to Paris to study at the College de France.
Evans studied writing and French at the college but one of the items he brought with him
was a vest pocket camera from the United States. While in France, he stared taking pictures and
learning the trade of being a photographer. Evans returned to New York after less than a year in
France. He stared working in a bookstore on the evening shift to allow him to take pictures of the
city during the day. It was here that he met Paul Grotz from Germany. The two of them roamed
the city doing the day taking pictures. Evans had his photographs reviewed by Georgia O’Keeffe
and Alfred Stieglitz and the only comment they would give him was “Very Good, Keep
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Working”. Evans disliked the artsy style of Stieglitz and began to develop his own
straightforward style of photography. Evans moved to Cape Cod and for the first time had his
work published in magazines like “The Bridge”, “Hound and Horn”, “Creative Art”, and a fivepage spread in “The Architectural Record”. At this time Evans was still shooting with 35 mm
and 2 ¼ x 4 ¼ film.
“Woman in Fur Collar” 1929
“Sidewall Produce Display New York” 1929
Evan’s friend Ralph Steiner in 1930 started him using a view camera to capture the detail
that had been lacking in his prior photographs. His work with the large format camera got him a
job in 1934 with the Farm Security Administration photographing the old south. He made trips
throughout the south for the next four years documenting the plight of the people and building in
the south. In 1936, he requested a leave of absence from the FSA to work a project for Fortune
magazine on sharecroppers in Alabama. He lived with the sharecropper for two months. Fortune
rejected his work for publication but published in 1941 as a book “Let Us Now Praise Famous
Men”.
“Alabama Tenant Farmer Wife” 1936
“Main Street of County Seat, Alabama” 1936
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In 1938, Evans started taking candid shots of people on the subway in New York. He
used a Lecia 35 mm camera that he had under his jacket with just the lens showing though two
buttons. He used a remote shutter release down his arm under the shirt to take the shot. They
were later published for the first time in 1956 in The Cambridge Times. Later in 1962 and
different set was published in Harpers Bazaar.
Evans became a staff writer for Time magazine from 1943 to 1945. He became a staff
writer and the sole staff photographer for Fortune magazine in 1945. He worked at Fortune
magazine for the next 20 years. They published many of Evans's photo-essays with his own text
over the twenty-year span. He took many pictures for Fortune of business executive and other
subjects that he did not like but they allowed him twice yearly to have his portfolios published.
His first was called “Looking North from Courthouse Square”, an article and picture story on
turn of the century picture cards. His next was “Summer North of Boston” which focuses on the
upscale readers of Fortune magazine. In contract to his photographs of the New York subway, he
as editor had a picture article done by Robert Frank called “The Congressional” which was done
on businessmen on the high-speed commuter train running from Washington, DC to New York.
He was Professor of Graphic Design at Yale University from 1965 until his death in New
Haven 10 years later. His photographs hang on the walls of museums throughout the world today
as a testament to his work in photography.
Excellent and informative essay Charles! He was certainly one of the great documentary
photographers of the 20th century.
Hoffman
Work Cited
Hambourg, Maria, et al. Walker Evans. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of
Art with Princeton University Press. 2000
Rathbone, Belinda. Walker Evans. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1995
Marshall, Peter. About. 27 August 2005. < http://photography.about.com/libery/weekly/
Aa090699a.htm>.
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