Walker Evans and the Great Depression
Walker Evans (1903-1975) began life in Chicago to middle class parents. Evans moved to New York when his parents separated and when he left school he worked in the public library as a night attendant in the Map Room. In 1926 Evans moved to Paris and worked as an auditor in the Sorbonne, here he discovered great literature such as Baudelaire and Flaubert and saw paintings of the School of Paris. Evans returned to America in 1927 feeling out of touch with the American Establishment and understanding that he needed to do something; he chose photography. Evans made his first pictures in 1928 and although originally he had planned on becoming a writer, Evans found that in documentary photography he could tell the stories. Evans was against the “artiness" of photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. Evans wanted to produce pictures that were truthful and where the artist was less important than the picture itself. After the Wall Street Crash in 1929 Evans was living with a friend, Hans Skolle. Another friend, Lincoln Kirstein, who had helped Evans understand what his photography was about, visited them in this period and described their living conditions; “a particularly depressing penurious hole in the wall; how they both look so clean is a constant mystery to me. Their poverty is really so sad, always implied but never mentioned." (Szarkowski, J. 1971)
Evans' first set of images that he produced for publication were of Victorian architecture. Evans was an exacting photographer who liked to let the truth reveal itself through its images. After spending much time learning and perfecting the art of using the camera, by 1930 Evans was confident in his abilities and style. He stated at this time that; “the possibilities of the medium excited him so much that he sometimes thought himself mad." (Szarkowski, J. 1971). By 1935 Evans had joined the Farm Administration Authority (FSA). For this project Evans' photographs were used as evidence that the rural population were suffering abject poverty due to the Great Depression. It was these images that shot Evans to fame. The images portrayed poverty stricken children dressed in rags, proud farm workers and families in their meagre surroundings. The New York Museum of Modern Art in 1938 granted a solo exhibition to Evans; this was the first exhibition they had ever given to a photographer. Evans continued to take pictures for the rest of his life though at a slower pace. In 1943 Evans joined "Time" magazine as a writer and photographer and in 1965 became a professor at Yale University.
Walker Evans, Bill Brandt and August Sander shared a common ideal that they wanted to find the "truth" in the image. The social documentary photography of the 1920s and 1930s that they produced showed ordinary people to the world. Images that "the man on the street" could relate to.