Walker Evans

Walker Evans

Walker Evans

Walker Evans


The Depression Era photographs of Alabama sharecroppers by Walker Evans remain among the most indelible and iconic images in the American consciousness. Indeed, the entire oeuvre of this great photographer is one of the most influential bodies of photographic work in this century.

As James R. Mellow's landmark biography makes clear, however, Walker Evans was not the propagandist for social causes he was presumed to be. He was, instead, a fastidious observer of the true nature of things or, as he himself has said, of "things as they are". His instinctive aversion to artifice set him apart from the formalism of his photographic predecessor, Alfred Stieglitz, as well as from his immediate contemporary, Ansel Adams.


It has long been recognized that Walker Evans was the preeminent photographer of his generation in America. What is less often acknowledged is that he was also one of the emblematic figures in the art and culture of his period. For it was Walker Evans's eye -- and the particular sensibility that governed it -- that signaled a decisive shift from the high- art aestheticism of Alfred Stieglitz in the initial phase of American modernism at the turn of the century to something quite different a generation later: an acutely lucid, disabused photographic style that placed its trust in an unembellished, highly concentrated look at the given realities of American life. Evans was by no means alone in effecting this radical revision in the way we observe the objects and environments of modern experience, but his was the most incisive contribution to the art that resulted from it, an art that changed the very conception of what a photograph might be. in this respect, he was one of the principal artists who redrew the map of American visual culture in this century, and thus permanently altered the way we see ourselves and the world we inhabit.

Born in 1903, Evans belonged to the same generation as literary talents as diverse as W.H. Auden, George Orwell, and James Agee, with all of whom his outlook on art and life had something in common. It was a generation that had been spared the horrors of the First World War -- this was what separated it from the so-called Lost Generation of Hemingway, Dos Passos, and e e cummings -- and it came of age instead in the heady excitements of the 1920s. However, it was by the shocks and conflicts of the depression era and the Second World War that this generation was most decisively formed. It was especially the period that Auden looked back on in his poem, "September 1, 1939" as a "low, dishonest decade," that prompted the artists and writers of his and Evans's generation to place a radically accessible candor at the center of their creative endeavors.

This inevitably put them in a critical relation to the first great wave of twentieth-century modernism in the arts -- the achievement represented by Eliot and Joyce, Picasso and Matisse, and their many acolytes -- which . . .

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