Il est né le 3 novembre 1903, à Saint-Louis, Missouri. Il étudie au Williams College en 1922-1923 et à la Sorbonne en 1926. Evans débute la photographie en 1930. Il obtient une bourse de la Fondation John-Simon-Guggenheim en 1940, 1941 et 1959. Il entre au magazine Time en 1945 et à Fortune en 1965. Cette même année, il devient professeur de photographie à l'école d'art de l'Université Yale. Il est mort le 10 avril 1975, à New Haven, Connecticut.
On connaît notamment son travail sur la Grande dépression, participant au programme de la Farm Security Administration. Les images de métayers dans l'Alabama, au même titre que celles de Dorothea Lange, comptent parmi les icônes du monde moderne.
On remarque dans son travail les regards des sujets fixant l'objectif de Walker Evans : ici pas de doute le sujet se sait photographié, pour autant il ne se compose pas un visage de circonstance orné d'un sourire obligatoire. Ici la photographie ne se contente pas de montrer, elle interroge le spectateur, l'américain des années 1930 : si le sujet se laisse photographier dans cette posture, c'est que son regard a quelque chose à nous dire. Ce n'est peut-être plus nous qui le regardons mais lui qui nous accuse.
Cette franchise du photographe préserve une dignité humaine mise à mal par la misère qui se laisse voir dans les vêtements en loques.
Cet aspect de ses photos est d'autant plus intéressant que c'est le même Walker Evans qui, entre 1938 et 1941, photographia des passagers du métro à leur insu. Un livre rassemblant cette série de clichés sera publié plus tard.
1935-1938 : Contribution au programme de la Farm Security Administration
1938-1941 : The Passengers. Appareil photo au cou et déclencheur dans la manche, Walker Evans saisit, des portraits d’anonymes dans la rue ou le métro, à leur insu.
1943-1945 : Contribution au Times
1943-1965 : Contribution à Fortune
Capezio Signs and Shoes, non datée, 28 x 35,5 cm, Musée d'art de Toulon.
1938 : Museum of Modern Art, New York.
1930-1931 : Philadelphie.
1931 : Photos d'art et d'industrie, New York.
1932 : Brooklyn Museum.
1933 : Museum of Modern Art, New York.
1936 : College art association, New York.
1937 : Philadelphie.
1971 : Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Depuis son décès
2000 : Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
2006 : Hayward Gallery de Londres (exposition itinérante).
2007 : Musée du quai Branly, Paris. Les photographies de 1935 sur l'art africain en regard des objets leur correspondant.
2008 : Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris. Walker Evans / Henri Cartier-Bresson. Photographier l'Amérique (1929-1947).
February 1 - May 14, 2000
The first comprehensive retrospective of the celebrated American photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975) - who made an unprecedented study of American culture for nearly half a century, from the late 1920s through the early 1970s - will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through May 14, 2000. "Walker Evans" will include 175 vintage photographs, including his renowned images of Alabama cotton farmers, African American churches in South Carolina, and New York subway riders, drawn from public and private collections in the United States and Canada. The exhibition will feature newly available material from the Walker Evans Archive, a vast collection of the artist's negatives and papers acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1994. (right: Alabama Tenant Farmer Wife [Allie Mae Burroughs], 1936, Gelatin silver print, 20.5 x 15.3 cm, Photography Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin)
"Walker Evans's compelling images of Americans and American life convey masterfully the poetic resonance of the ordinary as transformed by a personal artistic vision," said Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum. "With keen intellect, astounding visual acuity, and superb technical skill, he captured for us the very text and texture of 20th-century America." (left: [Subway Passengers, New York], 1938, Gelatin silver print, 12.2 x 15.0 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Arnold H. Crane, 1971, 1971.646. 18)
Reacting against the pictorialist tradition of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and others of the preceding generation of photographers, Evans banished all "artiness" and artifice from his practice and let the subject - be it a West Virginia coal miner, a roadside vegetable stand in Alabama, or a torn movie poster on Cape Cod - reveal itself directly to the viewer with exquisite candor. He recorded everyday life in many forms - popular culture, the iconography of commerce and consumerism, the automobile and its impact on the landscape, new poverty, old wealth, and everything in between.
Born in St. Louis in 1903, Walker Evans was raised in Kenilworth, a Chicago suburb, and in Toledo, Ohio. Educated at Andover and Williams College, Evans developed a love of contemporary literature - for Joyce and Eliot - and for the French modernists, Baudelaire and Flaubert. His passion for literature, coupled with a resentment of authority and academic conventionality, impelled Evans to abandon the classroom for the streets and cafés of Paris in 1926. He returned to New York the following year intent on becoming a writer, but by 1928 he had also taken up photography. (left: Main Street, Saratogn Springs, New York, 1931, Gelatin silver print, 17.0 x 14.6 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Anonymous Fund,404.38.8)
To make ends meet, he tried advertising photography, which he found vapid. Supporting himself with odd jobs, he taught himself to use the camera as a writer uses a pen - to inscribe the meaning of what he saw around him. His early photographic projects, some commissioned, some self-motivated, examined aspects of contemporary American life and its environment - the streets of New York, Victorian architecture in New England, the Brooklyn Bridge. He made abstract compositions of electric signs, sidewalk displays, and shadows cast by elevated train platforms, and documented the city with the combined interests of the historian and the anthropologist. Evans found in these subjects an authentic expression of what was most American about America, and his lasting achievement was to express that sense of indigenous national character in his photographs. He wanted his work, as he once said, to be "literate, authoritative, transcendent." (left: [Shop Front, New Orleans], 1935, Gelatin silver print, 24.4 x 19.2 cm, Private collection, New Jersey)
In the early 1930s Evans was hired to make photographs in Cuba for Carleton Beals's book The Crime of Cuba (1933), an exposé of the conditions under which Cubans lived during the oppressive dictatorship of Machado y Morales. It was in Havana that the young photographer captured some of his first images of poverty, destitution, and despair, and also made his first great portraits of working people.
In 1935-37, Evans worked for Roosevelt's New Deal Resettlement (later Farm Security) Administration, photographing in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In the process of producing images that met the project's goal - alerting America's increasingly urban society to the condition of the rural poor in the midst of the Depression - Evans achieved with clarity and precision his self-assigned mission: to define his subject with an educated awareness of what it is, and to describe it with such simplicity and certainty that the result seems an unchallengeable fact untainted by opinion. Possessing an inherent grace and structure, his photographs of shopfronts, barbershops, and rural homes are rich in details of daily life and, at times, of desperate need. (right: Broadway, 1930, Gelatin silver print, 26.9 x 23.3 cm, Collection of Alan and Gloria Siegel, New York)
With the writer James Agee, Evans created a written and photographic portrait of cotton tenant farmers in the South, which became the seminal book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). Its portraits of the Burroughs family - a sharecropper, his wife, and children - and pictures of their home in Hale County, Alabama, are today among the iconic images of the century. These photographs, all dating from the summer of 1936, will be featured in a special gallery dedicated to this unparalleled collaboration between writer and photographer.
In 1938, a selection from his first decade of work was exhibited by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and published as American Photographs, a 20th-century classic that is still in print. From 1938 to 1941 Evans photographed people in the New York subways, "the ladies and gentlemen of the jury." Caught unaware by a camera hidden inside Evans's jacket, the faces of New York's underground travelers are worthy of Dickens or Daumier. Evans published this series in 1966 as Many are Called. (right: Torn Movie Poster, 1930, Gelatin silver print, 16 x 10.9 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987, 1987.1100.59)
Evans worked for Time magazine (1943-45) and later for Fortune magazine (1945-65) as a Special Photographic Editor, producing some 40 portfolios and photographic essays, many in color, often self-assigned and with his own accompanying text. The pictures made for Fortune - of railroad company insignias, downtown Chicago, common tools, a Mississippi riverfront town in Kentucky, and views of America from a train window - exhibit the simplicity and intelligence that are the essence of Evans's style. The exhibition will include a large selection of the original Fortune magazines, black-and-white prints produced for the portfolios, and an extensive series of color images shown on a video screen.
After his retirement from Fortune, Evans taught photography at Yale University. He also disseminated his understanding of the humbler modes of graphic art and commercial display as essential forms of popular art by exhibiting and lecturing on his collections of roadside signs and picture postcards. (left: [Street Scene, Vicksburg, Mississippi], 1936, Gelatin silver print, 18.1 x 24.1 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation Gift, in memory of David Nathan Meyerson and Pat and John Rosenwald, and Lila Acheson Wallace Gifts, 1999, 1999.237.1)
In 1973-74 Evans worked with the just-released SX-70 Polaroid instant camera, returning to some of his most important themes - portraiture, architecture, and signs. The exhibition concludes with a selection of approximately 50 of these small but potent studies of color and form, dense condensations of a people's vital spirit and an artist's brilliant life work.
Walker Evans died in 1975.
"Walker Evans" will be accompanied by two books: a monograph with contributions by Maria Morris Hambourg, Curator-in-Charge, and by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Assistant Curator, both in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Photographs, published by Princeton University Press; and an anthology of materials from the Walker Evans Archive, including Evans's short stories, important correspondence and criticism, and selections from his 40,000 negatives, published by Scalo Publishers. Both publications will be available in the Metropolitan Museum's bookstore. (left: [Church, Beaufort, South Carolina], 1936, Gelatin silver print, 22.7 x 18.5 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation Gift, in memory of David Nathan Meyerson and Pat and John Rosenwald, and Lila Acheson Wallace Gifts, 1999, 1999.237.3)
Jeff L. Rosenheim is curator of the exhibition. Exhibition design is by Daniel Kershaw, Exhibition Designer.
The exhibition is made possible by Prudential Securities. The conservation of the Walker Evans Archive has been made possible through the generous support of the William Randolph Hearst Foundation as part of the Save America's Treasures program. Additional conservation support has been provided by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Henry J. Nias Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The publication is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Following its New York presentation, Walker Evans will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (June 2 - September 12, 2000) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (December 17, 2000 - March 4, 2001).
Perfect Documents: Walker Evans and African Art, 1935
February 1 - September 3, 2000
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is presenting a group of distinctive and relatively unknown works by the American photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975), through September 3, 2000. "Perfect Documents: Walker Evans and African Art, 1935 examines in detail the history of Evans's African art photographs through 50 vintage images from the portfolio that Evans created in conjunction with a landmark exhibition of African art. Complementing "Perfect Documents" is a selection of sculptures that Evans photographed in 1935, many of which are on loan from public and private collections. (left: Figure Stuck with Nails (Nkisi N'kondi front view), Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yombe peoples, gelatin silver print, 9 1/8 x 4 1/4 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, THe Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Robert Goldwater, 1961 and 1962 (1978.412.2199)
In 1935 the groundbreaking African Negro Art exhibition was organized by The Museum of Modern Art. It was one of the first exhibitions in the United States to display African sculptures as works of art, rather than as ethnographic objects. Evans, then 32 years old, was commissioned by the museum to create a photographic portfolio of a selection of works from the exhibition of more than 600 sculptures. The large commission created a record of masterpieces in the exhibition and gave Evans the opportunity to build relationships with individuals at the Museum of Modern Art who would continue to encourage and promote his artistic endeavors.
Virginia-Lee Webb, the curator of the exhibition and Archivist of the Photograph Collection in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, stated: "Evans's photographs of African art were made just before he began his renowned work for the Resettlement Administration. Importantly they record many masterpieces, and they also reveal Evans's signature style of photography." (right: Figure surmounting a calabash [Detail, gourd figure: Kabwelulu] Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luba peoples, Gelatin silver print; 7 x 9 3/8 in. (17.8 x 23.8 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Robert Goldwater, 1961 and 1962, 1978.412.2205)
The commission comprised 17 portfolios, each with 477 photographs, and a typescript index. While the actual photography took about six weeks, often at night during the run of the exhibition, the printing, mounting, and collating of the prints took almost a year. Evans photographed many sculptures from more than one view, and the manner in which he pictured the works reflects his highly personal photographic style. He generally positioned the sculptures tightly within the frame with little space around them, and in many instances - as he did throughout his career - he cut the prints to specific dimensions to achieve the effect he desired.
The Evans photographs include those of such famous works of art as the Fang Reliquary Sculpture (head from Gabon) that has long been admired for its balanced symmetry and juxtaposition of straight lines and sinuous curves. In the collection of the sculptor Jacob Epstein in the 1920s, the formally powerful sculpture was one of the works of art that brought early-20th-century modernist artists to the admiration of non-Western art. It is now in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The vintage photographs in Perfect Documents will be rotated once during the run of the show. In June 2000 another set of prints will be installed in the exhibition.
Born in St. Louis in 1903, Walker Evans was raised in Kenilworth, Chicago, and Toledo, Ohio. Educated at Andover and Williams College, Evans developed a love of contemporary literature - for James Joyce and T. S. Eliot - and for the French modernists, Charles Baudelaire and Gustave Flaubert. His passion for literature, coupled with a resentment of authority and academic conventionality, impelled Evans to abandon the classroom for the streets and cafés of Paris in 1926. He returned to New York the following year, intent on becoming a writer; but by 1928, he had taken up photography. At the request of Alfred H. Barr, Evans began photographing the African sculptures on display at the Museum of Modern Art in mid-April 1935, and by August he began work for the Resettlement Administration in Washington, D.C. This led to further work with the government, and Evans continued working until the museum project ended in April 1936. (right: [Untrimmed contact print showing a Banda Headdress] Africa, Guinea, Baga/Nalu peoples, Gelatin silver print; 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, Purchase, 1989, 1989.410.1)
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue by Virginia-Lee Webb. The exhibition catalogue is made possible by the Doris Duke Fund for Publications. This publication - the first to examine the subject and related projects - includes new and comprehensive information drawn from The Walker Evans Archive in the Museum's Department of Photographs, and as well as from other archival sources. It is published by the Metropolitan Museum in a paperback edition and is available in the Museum's Bookshop.
"Perfect Documents: Walker Evans and African Art, 1935" is organized by Virginia-Lee Webb, with Alisa La Gamma, Assistant Curator in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Metropolitan Museum. Exhibition design is by Dennis Kois, Design Assistant to the Chief Designer, with graphics by Constance M. Norkin, Graphic Designer, and lighting by Zack Zanolli, Lighting Designer. The exhibition is sponsored by Philip Morris Companies Inc. (left: Ancestral figure, head [Reliquary sculpture: head (Nlo Bieri)] Africa, Gabon, Fang peoples, Gelatin silver print; 9 1/4 x 6 in. (23.5 x 15.2 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Robert Goldwater, 1961 and 1962, 1978.412.2145)