Photographer Biography – EVANS, WALKER

USA, 1903-1975


Walker Evans was born in Saint Louis in 1903. His father was an ambitious advertising executive. The family moved to a new suburb north of Chicago. When Walker was twelve, his father took a job in Toledo, Ohio, with the Willys (Jeep) Motorcar Company. It was a shocking experience for Walker to live in a small town full of immigrants.

His parents divorced. His mother and sister moved to New York in 1919, his father stayed in Ohio and moved in with the woman next door. Walker, 16, was sent to a boarding school in northern Connecticut where expressed his rage by arguing continually with his headmaster. Later, Yale refused him entrance and he finally went to Williams College instead (1922/23). He was much into contemporary literature (Eliot, Pound, Joyce, Hemingway).

After his freshman year, he dropped out of college. In 1923/24, living in New York, he began to write.

In 1926, he sailed for Paris and stayed abroad thirteen months where his accomplished his education in international modernism and had gathered most of the tools he would need to become an artist. He return to New York in May of 1927, together with his French books, his literary aspirations and his handful of little photographs. He translated Cocteau and Larbaud, worked in a Fifty-Seventh Street bookstore and made new friends who made him discover modern photographers.

In late 1928 or early 1929, Evans went to see 65-year old patriarch of American fine-art photography Alfred Stieglitz. The master was not in, but his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe, had a look at his photographs. Later, the two man not only did not like each other, but Evans also rejected Stieglitz’s sumptuous, highly subjective and aestheticising photographs which he saw in 1929 at a MoMA-exhibition. Evans established his own documentary style as a Stieglitz antipode. He refined his concept of his subject and worked to make a seemingly simple, straightforward image appear inevitable, large in its symbolism, and irreducibly right (Philippe de Montebello). Evans was influenced by the French photographer Eugène Atget, whose work he got to now in 1929 thanks to his friend Berenice Abbott. Walker was also impressed by another Frenchman, Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose pictures he admired when they were first shown in New York in 1933.

In the 1930s, Walker made famous photographs of the depression era in the American South. Among them is a series of pictures of 1936 which he shot when living – together with the writes James Agee – in the world of three sharecropper families. The result of the experience was his classic book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. From 1945 until 1965, when he accepted a professorship at Yale University, Evans worked as a staff photographer for Fortune. He died in 1975.

These are some of his photos: