Monday, November 3, 2014


Walker Evans
from NPR The Writers Almanac
Photographs From
"Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"
by James Agee and Walker Evans
(screen shots)
American photographer, Walker Evans was born on this date in St. Louis, Missouri, 1903. "He dropped out of college and moved to New York City, determined to make his way as a writer. He said, "I'm almost a pathological bibliophile." The only way to access the stacks of the New York Public Library was to work there, so he got an evening job working in the map room, which he loved.  At the age of 22, he moved to Paris for a year, supported by his wealthy parents. Paris was filled with expatriate authors, and even though Evans was inspired by all the artistic ideas, he kept his distance from the writers. He hung around Sylvia Beach's bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., but he refused her offers to introduce him to James Joyce — he was too scared, and left the bookstore every time Joyce came in. He said: "I was very poor and obscure and quite unhappy and lonely. No, it wasn't what most people think Paris in the golden age was. Not for me. I didn't know anybody." He took a handful of photos with a little six-dollar vest-pocket camera, but he was not thinking seriously about photography.  He moved back to New York City, and found himself taking more photographs. He said: "It was a real drive. Particularly when the lighting was right. You couldn't keep me in." He felt guilty about it, because he thought it was just a substitute for his real calling, which was writing. He started publishing photos and prose together, everything from little prose poems to reviews of photography books. Slowly, the photography took over.
He didn't like to associate with other photographers — his friends were writers, or artists. He said, "I was photographing against the style of the time, against salon photography, against beauty photography, against art photography."

Over the next few years, Evans worked as a freelance photographer for a variety of magazines and books, and had several exhibitions of his work.
He made a list of subjects he hoped to photograph: "People, all classes, surrounded by bunches of the new down-and-out. Automobiles and the automobile landscape. Architecture, American urban taste, commerce, small scale, large scale, the city-street atmosphere, the street smell, the hateful stuff, women's clubs, fake culture, bad education, religion in decay. The movies. Evidence of what people of the city read, eat, see for amusement, do for relaxation and not get it. Sex. Advertising."
In 1934, he accepted his first commission from Fortune magazine, for a piece about the Communist Party.

"In Cuba"
"Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"

In 1935, the Resettlement Agency (which became the Farm Security Administration) offered Evans a job and a camera to photograph small-town life during the Depression. In 1936, he took a three-week leave to travel with the writer James Agee and document the life of Southern tenant farmers for Fortune. The magazine decided not to publish their material, so the two published it themselves, in the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).

Evans photos documented a variety of subjects, including riders on the New York subway, photo-essays of Midwest cities, images from train windows, color studies, and vintage office furniture. He worked as a staff writer for Time and as the sole staff photographer for Fortune.

He died in 1975 at the age of 71. Two days before his death, he gave a talk to a photography class at Harvard. He said: "I just found that this was my m├ętier and walked blindly into it. That was a good thing because I hadn't had much experience or sophistication or study in the field. Again, I just brought my feelings to it....You know that you're home when you're in the slot that's made for you. A lot of people suffer years trying to find that; it just came to me."

Before the book there was the Essay

A page full of possible choices for purchase of the book
"Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" by James Agee
(photos by Walker Evans:
It's a most wonderful read if anyone wants to give it a go:


grace Forrest~Maestas said...

i love this. if i could have been Anything, maybe it would have been a photojournalist. i just love this post.

grace Forrest~Maestas said...

and walking away, but still thinking, still hearing the voices sing, still seeing the Plain images, i think how in a Stretched Way, this house i live in is similar in it's plainness, more similar to the ones in these photographs than to ones that say for instance my children live in. and how there is such a closeness i feel, looking here, a kinship with a different Time, a different Way of Living