let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Photographs by Walker Evans
The book grew out of an assignment the two men accepted in 1936 to produce a magazine article on the conditions among white sharecropper families in the U.S. South. It was the time of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" programs designed to help the poorest segments of the society. Agee and Evans spent eight weeks that summer
researching their assignment, mainly among three white sharecropping families mired in desperate poverty. They returned with Evans' portfolio of stark images of families with gaunt faces, adults and children huddled in bare shacks before dusty yards in the Depression-era nowhere of the deep south, and Agee's detailed notes.
By combining factual reportage with passages of literary complexity and poetic beauty, Agee presented a complete picture - an accurate, minutely detailed report of what he had seen, coupled with insight into his feelings about the experience, and the difficulties of capturing it for a broad audience. In doing so, he created an enduring portrait of a nearly invisible segment of the American population. Although Agee's and Evans' work was never published as the intended magazine article, their work has endured in the form in which it finally emerged, a lengthy, highly original book. Agee's text is part ethnography, part cultural anthropological study, and part novelistic; a narrative set in the shacks and fields of Alabama. Evans' black-and-white photographs, starkly real but also matching the grand poetry of the text, are included as a portfolio, without comment.
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