Walker Evans

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I decided that due to my procrastination on the new hard drive, (due here at my door tomorrow, Yay!), I would use this time to look into the work of one of my favorite photographers Walker Evans. I went to the library yesterday and picked up ten books of his work to read and absorb.

I’m trying to channel something my photography professor had us do when I first stated formally studying photography. One of his first lectures to us was about going to the Louisville School of Art’s library and looking at the vast catalog of famous photographers to find out whose work resonated with us. This exercise opened my eyes to the work of the Farm Security Administration photographers who worked for the US government during the Great Depression. I discovered Walker Evans while researching these women and men and instantly found his work to be so rich in metaphor and social commentary while at the same time being so well composed and well done technically.

I have already finished reading one of the books and realize that I have been following  in Walker Evans’ tracks for much of my photographic journey. I love the way he gave dignity to his subjects and celebrated the working women and men of his day; it is something I have tried to do with my art for many years as well.

My current project on the Big Four Bridge here in Louisville has another component beyond documenting the progress of the work on the bridge. I am also compiling a record of the men who are doing the physical work on the job. I have already amassed a huge collection of images about them that I will edit over the next year to produce a book to be shared with these men and the Waterfront Development Corporation for their archives. My hope is that these men will be forever linked and identified for their contribution to the city of Louisville and the success of Waterfront Park and that their descendants will be able to come to the archive and find out about them and see them as I saw them while they worked.

10 thoughts on “Walker Evans

  1. A number of years ago my son and I went to see an exhibition of Walker Evans in NYC — must have been at the Met. It was an eye-opener for two photographers who worked primarily in color on nature subjects and whose heroes were Galen Rowell and other greats of that kind. I’d like to revisit Evans now. Nick, best of luck with your VERY admirable project on the Big Four Bridge! Oy … maybe I can do something similar when they start building the new TZB down in Rockland County … what a temptation …

    1. If you want to be involved with a project such as TZB I suggest you start looking into who is managing the project. Ask for an opportunity to shoot it as a one time thing and then show up with your own hard hat and a safety vest. The construction superintendent will see you as someone who respects the job site rules and will probably become a great supporter of you. Don’t be afraid to ask for a chance to return and it may become possible.

  2. I agree with you, Walker Evans work is art. It enabled people to have more knowledge and feeling for what others had to endure, and he did photograph people as having dignity. Best of luck on your project. It sounds wonderful. Have a good holiday.

    1. My mother grew up in northern Alabama during the Great Depression. She often told us how difficult life was for her family as sharecroppers in that time. Seeing Evans’ photographs many years ago I realized how hard their lives must have been and why she came north to Louisville in 1941 to make a new life for herself.

  3. The depression era photographers have always been some of my favorites. Evan’s subway portraits are unbelievable—so intimate—such detail in what must have been a low-light situation. I wonder what kind of camera he used. Happy Holidays, Nick, and thank you for this post.

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