Walker Evans was a quintessential American photographer known for his documentary work capturing the United States in the 1930s and 40s. Evans created photographs that elucidated and archived American society so thoroughly; his images became an enduring body of work that influenced the development of art in the twentieth century.
Born in 1903 in St. Louis, Missouri, Evans grew up in a well-off, puritanical family, spending his childhood in Chicago and New York City. Evans graduated from the prestigious Phillips Academy preparatory school and later attended Williams College for a year, to then drop out and pursue literature in New York City. He traveled to Paris and stayed there for a year and returned to New York intending to become a writer. It is around this time that Walker Evans began taking photographs with a small, hand-held camera, using the conventions of literature to guide his burgeoning aesthetic.
Along with contemporaries like Berenice Abbott, Evans went on to become one of the best-known documentary photographers of the 1930s. In 1936, Evans created groundbreaking work with writer James Agee, documenting tenant families in Southern Alabama. Their book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” is regarded for its literary innovation and unflinching but humane photographs. Much of Evans’s renowned work uses medium to large format cameras, granting higher resolution and depth of field.
In 1938 the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) gave Walker Evans their first one-person exhibition for a photographer in its history. This exhibition cemented his influence as an American icon of arts and culture and a proponent of a vernacular artform with an original American sensibility.
Walker Evans worked for fifty years, from the 1920s to the 1970s, creating photographs that collectively evoked a sense of America. After making his name working for the Farm Security Administration, Walker Evans contributed pictures to TIME and Fortune magazines as a staff photographer for over 20 years, and in his later years, became a professor of graphic arts at Yale University.