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Walker Evans Essay, Research Paper

One of America s greatest and most influential photographers, Walker Evans is credited with creating a vision of life in the 1930 s as Americans would wish to see themselves: dignified and indomitable, even in the face of poverty and despair. He was a documentary photography pioneer whose portraits of the common man have earned him comparison with another American artist, Walt Whitman, Yet Evans might well have died in obscurity if not for a collaboration with the writer James Agee in 1936. The book which resulted form that partnership Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was itself neglected for nearly two decades, and only achieved critical acclaim when it was reprinted in 1960, bringing long overdue recognition for its photographer. (http://miuraj.tripod.co.jp)

Walker Evans the III was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 3, 1903. Mr. Evans was known for saying that his birthdate was on March 3, instead of November 3. He grew up mostly with his father also Walker Evans and his mother Jessie Beach Crane. There are many early photos of the family. They were basically all family outings with aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Walker Evans father was an advertising man, and his mother worked in a shop.

It was the nature of Walker Evans JR s profession that the family moved quite a bit and the children s education was spread apart. Walker and his sister, Jane attended a kindergarten in Kenilworth, Illinois, a well to do suburb of Chicago. From grade school when Walker was about eight he can recall a pair of teachers, sisters, that were very sympathetic and good women. He claimed that he had been an apt pupil, until I discovered the choice of being bad and not doing well. But I was na ve. Maybe at the age of eight I was a star pupil because I loved it, and I loved the teacher. But when I lost interest I became a very poor student, Walker admits. (www.nytimes.com/books)

It was around the age of fourteen that Walker became interested in photography. I did have a box camera, and I developed film in the bathroom, he said. (www.nytimes.com/books) Walker enjoyed drawing also. During grade school he would draw things such as maps, and was very intense about it.

Evans continued to move around. His parents got separated and he moved to New York City with his mother. He then went to a well to do prep school, called Phillips Andover. His performance there wasn t too good and e barely made it into college from there. Thankfully he was admitted into Williams College in Williamstown in September 1922. Despite the poor showing of his records at Andover, Evans would claim, I started reading at Andover with a real love of reading and then I carried it on so much at Williams that I didn t do much else but read in the library. Judging from his grades at Williams College it may well have been true. Evans recollection, supported by his records, was that he had dropped out of Williams after only on year. It was the end of his education, he stated, although I left in good standing. I don t remember studying anything, but paid a little attention in class. Evans education did mark the beginning of a lifelong interest in literature, and he said that his first ambition in life was to be a writer. (www.nytimes.com/books)

Evans first published photographs were in a 1930 edition of Hart Crane s poem, The Bridge, and in The Crime of Cuba by Carlton Beals. (http://xroads.virginia.edu) Evans has been involved with some books of his own. Walker and a man by the name of James Agee worked on a book together called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. This was brought about when the two of them were asked to work together on a project for Fortune magazine. They lived together for two months traveling to Hale County, Alabama. The two wrote about and photographed three sharecropper families. (http://miuraj.tripod.co.jp)

While on their journey Evans and Agee visited the Burroughses house. They were the poorest of the three families. The other families only gave one-third of their profit from farming to the landowner. The Burroughses were known as half-croppers and gave half of their crop to the landowner. (Rathbone 128) Their house just yelled out poverty when they seen it. Both Agee and Evans though highly of the backwoods family though. There was no disguise with them, the family was very well preserved and gained the men s respect. The photographs that Evans took showed the beauty in the house, even though a normal eye couldn t see it. Evans used every effort possible to make the not at all extravagant dwellings of the family, beautiful. This was the way he thought of the family, so this would be the way he portrayed them in the photos. Once finished Fortune rejected the photos and text from Agee and Evans, saying that the show of poverty was unacceptable for their magazine. The men then decided to turn the information into a book. It took several years but was finally published by Houghton Mifflin. (http://miuraj.tripod.co.jp)

Walker Evans was the first photographer to be given a one-man exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. He was even given this honor before such names as, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. It was like having a calling card or yet, a passport, Evans later said. (Rathbone 167) In 1940 Walker also received the Guggenheim Fellowship award.

Evans later went to work for Fortune magazine. They saw him as risky, but he was well qualified with his previous awards and accomplishments. Evans was now on the full-time staff of the magazine as a photographer. Even though early in his life he was out to be a writer. Walker was sent to Chicago to photograph. He said that it was much more rundown than when he was there as a young boy. (Rathbone 200) He took pictures of rundown townhouses, saying to himself that Chicago was then a city too impatient for its own progress. He also photographed the subways and streets. He was famous for this along with his everyday people, and the poverty stricken sharecroppers. Evans was sent to many other places to photograph for Fortune. It was all expenses paid, that is what he loved most about it. He continued to travel and take his famous pictures. After working for Fortune for nearly twenty years, he retired.

In the summer of 1956, Sports Illustrated assigned him to a story on British sporting events. This gave him his first visit to England. (Rathbone 227) Evans also worked for the Farm Security Administration and numerous other magazines and museums.

Walker Evans was most famous for his photos of the Southern sharecroppers in his first book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and his photos from the depression era. There was also a book that Evans created that held many famous photographs taken by him. They were held in his book, American Photographs, and was said to be a book that every photographer needed to own. American Photographs was set up with many different photos. The depression, everyday working people, the streets and subways and strangely enough license plates, from all the eras that Evans was associated with. (http://photography.miningco.com)

The final years of Walker Evans life were spent at Yale School of Art and Architecture. He worked there as a teacher for the last ten years of his life. His students and co-workers looked up to him. Listening very intently to his words and his works of art, his photographs, as they should. Mr. Evans died in New Haven, Connecticut in 1975.


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