In ”Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye”, author Gilles Mora attempts to capture and represent every significant aspect of the photographer’s life and times via his art work. Evans was a Depression-era photographer with the Farm Security Administration and later editor of Fortune magazine. His work was featured in Time magazine and he was the first photographer to be given a solo show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1938. In 1935, he had his first photograph display at the museum, a series he called “African Negro Art. ”
Evans did not initially set out to be a photographer, but ended up as part of a class of FSA photographers that included such greats as Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams. He was born to well-to-do parents in St. Louis in 1903 and attend college in New York for a year before going to Paris to see the world. In 1927, he returned to the New York literary scene making friends with others who would go on to have a huge impact on his career. He first began taking photographs in 1928 and worked on Wall Street as a clerk to a stockbroker until the stock market crash in 1929.
A year later his first photographs, of the Brooklyn Bridge, were published in a book of poetry by Hart Crane. During the Depression, Evans toured Cuba where he met Earnest Hemingway and worked for the Resettlement Administration in West Virginia before joining the FSA. He spent a great deal of time shooting American architecture as a manner of recording history and life and also spent 3 weeks living with sharecroppers in Alabama for a piece for Time magazine that James Agee was supposed to write.
The piece did not meet Time’s standards, but he and Agee would publish the story and photos in 1941 in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” Evans primarily used an 8” by 10” large format camera for his Depression era work, though he would switch to 35 mm in his later years. He is primarily known for his attempt to document life as it was without the influence of the photographer being felt in the photographs. This was, of course, impossible given the medium that he was using.
The large size format combine with the film type meant that often his subjects would have to remain motionless for several minutes while the film was exposing. Still, even his staged photographs appeared to be accurate scenes of life in the South in the Depression. During World War II, Evans was a regular contributor to Time magazine and after the war he joined the staff of Fortune magazine where he was a regular contributor until 1965. In 1965, he left the magazine to become a professor of graphic design at Yale Univeristy in New Haven, Conn., where he remained until his death in 1975.
Evans is best known for his Depression era work, but he also did several series after the war attempting to document American life. He did a series about American industrialization s shot from a moving train and about the people of New York City that he shot on the subway with a camera hidden in his coat. Evans is credited with having a strong influence on several American artists most notably Andy Warhol, who may have gotten the idea for his photo-booth series from work that Evans had done in a photo-booth.
It is believed that Evans began experimenting with the use of photo booth imagery as early as 1929 in an attempt to divest himself from the role of artist in the taking of the photograph. Evans argued throughout most of his life in favor of the idea that photography should be a record of what was and not an artistic medium. Mora attempts to depict Evans’ work in a manner as closely as possible to the way they were originally presented, meaning some reproductions in the book are small and difficult to appreciate, but as a whole Evans’ body of work is amazing for its depiction of the human spirit.