The Documentary Aesthetic of Walker Evans


In the fall of 1971 there was an amazing photography lecture series hosted at NYU by the International Fund for Concerned Photography Inc.  The lecture series was the Concerned Photographer III iteration and the line-up was filled with photographic stars. A Walker Evans lecture took place on the auspicious day of November 18th 1971.


Cornell Capa in correspondence with Walker Evans suggested “Documentary Aesthetic” as the title listing for his lecture.


It is great to see two legends like Walker Evans and Cornell Capa in such animated conversation. I love this image of Walker Evans and his cup and his thermos beside him.

Walker Evans was having a great year in 1971. His career retrospective “Photographs by Walker Evans” images selected and installed by John Szarkowski opened at the Museum of Modern Art (January 27 through April 11, 1971) containing two hundred of his photographs from 1924 to the present.

“It is ourselves we see, ourselves lifted from a parochial setting. We see what we have not heretofore realized, ourselves made worthy in our anonymity.” — William Carlos Williams, writing about Walker Evans’ photographs (1938).



The kids in class in 1971 looked like this. . .


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Walker Evans is one of the greatest photographers of all time and he is the documentary visionary of American photography. He is the creator of an encyclopedic visual catalogue of modern America. During the 1930s Walker Evans was one of the extraordinary photographers employed during the Depression for the Farm Security Administration’s photographic unit to record the life of the rural American poor. His work is an amazing record of twentieth century America and it is also filled with subtle poetic nuances that still resonate today. The Estate of Walker Evans handed over its entire holdings to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1994.

Some Walker Evans History & Facts

1903 November 3rd Walker Evans was born in ST. Louis, Missouri. Walker Evans grew up in Toledo, Chicago, and New York City.

1926 Walker Evans lives in Paris for a year with the intention of becoming a writer.

1927 Returns to New York and gets a job as a clerk for a stockbroker firm in Wall Street until 1929 and the economic crash.

1928 Walker Evans takes his first photographs with a small hand-held, roll-film camera.

1930 His first publication of three photographs (Brooklyn Bridge) in the poetry book The Bridge by Hart Crane.

1931 Evans completes a photo series of Victorian houses in the Boston vicinity. Evans shares studio in Greenwich Village with FSA photographer Ben Shahn (through 1932).

1933 Photographic trip to Havana, Cuba – provides illustrations for Carleton Beals’s book The Crime of Cuba. Meets with Robert Capa’s good friend Mr. Ernest Hemingway.

1935 Walker Evans begins a photographic tour of the Southern American states.

1936 July/August: three-week stay with sharecropper families in Hale County, Alabama, together with James Agee.

1938 “Walker Evans: American Photographs,” exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the first exhibition in this museum devoted to the work of a single photographer. Exhibition catalogue published with an essay by Lincoln Kirstein.

1941 “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” is published by Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.

1943 Articles for Time magazine (through 1944).

1945- 1965 Walker Evans works continuously as a phototgrapher for Fortune.

1948 Exhibition (retrospective) at the Art Institute of Chicago.

1950 Walker Evans produces a photo series of the American industrial landscape seen as though from the window of a moving train.

1965 Walker Evans becomes a Professor of photography on the Faculty for Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art and Architecture.

1966 “Many are Called” is published. Publication in book form of his subway photographs.

1971 Walker Evans, exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Catalog with an essay by John Szarkowski.

1971 Walker Evans lecture in the Fall at NYU as part of the Concerned Photographer III series.

1975 April 10: Walker Evans dies in New Haven, Connecticut.


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