November 4, 2010
American photographer Walker Evans is perhaps best remembered for his images of America in the 1930s. Born on November 3 in 1903, Evans initially aspired to become a writer and studied French literature, but by 1928, he changed course and took up photography. Starting off as an advertising photographer, Evans worked for the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal organization whose photography program set out to document rural America during the Great Depression.
Traveling throughout the southeastern United States, Evans created a body of work that captured the suffering of communities of people who were hardest-hit by the nation’s economic troubles. “Here are the records of the age before an imminent collapse,” wrote friend and critic Lincoln Kirstein. “His pictures exist to testify to the symptoms of waste and selfishness that caused the ruin and to salvage whatever was splendid for the future reference of the survivors.”
Evans’ works have since joined the collections of major museums across the country, including the Smithsonian. And what better day could there be to dive into the Smithsonian’s wealth of online goodies to get to know Evans a little better?
Evans, like many artists, was fairly guarded about revealing much about himself, preferring to cultivate an enigmatic image of himself. However, courtesy of the Archives of American Art, you can get to know the artist on a more personal level by way of this 1971 interview done exclusively for the Smithsonian. Of particular interest are his reminisces of his early years just as Evans was beginning to pursue photography. “My poor father,” Evans recalls, “had a conventional attitude toward the arts and all that decided that all I wanted to do was to be naughty and get hold of girls through photography, that kind of thing. He had no idea that I was serious about it. And respectable, educated people didn’t. That was a world you wouldn’t go into. Of course that made it all the more interesting, the fact that it was perverse, for me.”
And if you would like to see examples of Evans’s non-FSA work, like the above image, the American Art Museum has a number of online offerings.
For those of you interested in seeing more photography from the Farm Security Administration, which encouraged the work of other masters such as Dorothea Lange, check out this online collection from the Library of Congress.
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