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Walker Evan; a Study of His Life and Career as a Photographer

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Walker Evans (1903-1975) is a celebrated American photographer whose astonishing works impacted not only his generation, but generations to come. He commences his career in the late 1920s as a college dropout. While studying European civilization and language, he becomes impressed with French artists such as Charles Baudelaire, Gustave Flaubert and André Gide. Returned in New York, he becomes published in Alhambra journal (1930), Moravagine (1930) and Creative Art (1930) in which he composes captions for photos.

Walker Evans photographic works do not conform with the artificial, American studio portraiture. His realist and unorthodox pieces portray the unembellished ordinary and mundane, resisting the incorporation of props, poses, cosmetics and costumes. Evans’ creations also attest that instead of focusing on high-profile personalities and luminaries, the subjects should be the average American. As a result, his images feature persons at the subway, in their homes, in the streets, at shops and places of work at farms, mines and factories. Employed in the 1930s as a documentary photographer for the government, Evans captures a plethora of images detailing the effects of the Great Depression on the common man. Throughout his productions, one bears witness to Evans’ possession of extraordinary aptitude in making current, contemporary images seem very historical. The Museum of Modern Art in New York recognizes his superior quality documentaries and exhibits his decade-long compilations in the 1930s.

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From the 1940s, his works of art become popularized, propelling him to far-reaching fame. For his sterling contributions to American photography, he earns coveted positions at the Time and Fortune magazines, deluxe publications. Here, he operates as a Special Photographic Editor. His renowned pieces contained in the compilation Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941) illustrates the poor and mediocre in their natural settings. Shifting from people in the 1940s, Evans displays through his lens the inanimate. Featuring architecture, furniture, billboards, signs, machinery, vehicles and buildings, his works transform to focusing on the impacts of 20th century American modernism and capitalism. As they picture a new capitalist, cosmopolitan identity, Evans’ photos give a distinct flavour of American mid-century innovative industrialization with the signing of the New Deal. Again, his notoriety peaked in this decade with a presentation titled, Many Are Called (1940), at the Museum of Modern Art in 1948 and the U.S. Camera Annual in 1949.

In the 1950s due to accelerating polaroid technology, Evans’ snapshots continue to distinguish themselves. He portrays subjects in motion without flash; therefore, executing outstanding hidden-camera photos. On trains, subways and streets, he grasps individuals and objects in full movement. This unique approach is diametrically opposed to the accepted school of photography. Also, perfecting the art of black-and-white and colored pictures, he composes his own essay subtitles; thus, he develops a novel type of photo narrative. This photojournalist style awards him prominence.

In the last two decades of his life in the 1960s and 1970s, Evans assumes a position as a Yale professor of photography. However, he still remains actively engaged in his vocation. Fascinated with objects communicating developments in the rising mechanized and urbanized eras, the observer sees images such as dismantled vehicles, living room furniture, trashcans and town shops. In 1966, he releases two compendiums of his lifework in Message from the Interior and Many Are Called. In his last interview Evans affirms that the “the “matter of art in photography may come down to this: it is the capture and projection of the delights of seeing; it is the defining of observation full and felt.” In the 1970s, he undertakes work with the Polaroid SX-70 and by this means, his final contributions to photography sealed.


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