America by Walker Evans

Walker Evans (1903-1975) was undoubtedly one of America’s greatest photographers.  His black-and-white images stand as time capsules of an America now gone but still familiar.  Evans is best known for his iconic images of sharecroppers hit hard by The Great Depression as part of his work for the Farm Security Administration.  During my recent visit to Cooperstown, NY and the Fenimore Art Museum, I was able to see their amazing collection of Walker Evans’ photographs.  I was struck most not by his most famous images from the Dust Bowl and America’s Heartland, but by his images of America’s East Coast during the same time period.  His photographs of people and places spanning the hardened core of America’s original thirteen states from New York City to Atlanta captured an America that was shell-shocked but resilient, an over-developed and industrialized stretch of the Eastern Seaboard that was crumbling and decaying but populated by survivors — an America that would eventually pull through the Great Depression and produce the Greatest Generation defined by their heroic actions in World War Two.

Here are some of my favorite images from Walker Evans:

Walker Evans Girl on Fulton Street

1.  Girl in Fulton Street (NYC, 1929).  I don’t know if this was taken before or after the Crash of ’29, but there is a knowing look painted on this girl’s face…and you can see nervousness beneath the veneer.  Should she be scared to death or just slightly annoyed by the impending doom?

Walker Evans Torn Movie Poster

2.  Torn Movie Poster (Unknown, 1930).  The actual photograph is larger, but this close-up strikes at the heart of the composition.  This brilliantly captures the fear and the anxiety felt during the early years of the Great Depression that left many literally tearing at the scraps left over…or as modern rockers Muse might say, “It’s time the fat cats had a heart attack.”  Bonus points to anyone who can identify the film.

Walker Evans Billboards in Atlanta

3.  Billboards and Houses in Atlanta (Georgia, 1936).  There is so much detail captured here…houses that have probably long since been demolished and movies no one remembers or watches anymore.

Walker Evans Graveyard and Steel Mill Bethlehem PA

4.  Graveyard and Steel Mill in Bethlehem (Pennsylvania, 1935).  This image speaks volumes about an America mourning a crumbling infrastructure.

Walker Evans Sons of American Legion

5.  Sons of American Legion (Bethlehem, PA, 1935).  From left to right, the boys facing out represent a motley crew of characters:  the serious one, the wisecracker, the impatient one, and the slow one.  Less than ten years later they would be marching off to war and would become the Greatest Generation.

Walker Evans Joes Auto Graveyard

6.  Joe’s Auto Graveyard (Pennsylvania, 1936).  This one says it all, doesn’t it?  When that scrap-metal was turned into tanks, America was reborn.

Written commentary by David H. Schleicher

All Photographs by Walker Evans.


  1. Tough choice to choose one over the other, something I have never been able to do.
    There are many schools of painting. Why should there not be many schools of photographic art? There is hardly a right and a wrong in these matters, but there is truth, and that should form the basis of all works of art…….
    Alfred Stieglitz, American Amateur Photographer, 1893

    Debra, I couldn’t agree more. On another day in a different mood it could Stieglitz or someone else. Many photographers have shown the truth in more ways than one over the years. –DHS

  2. David H. Schleicher said, “Stieglitz or Evans, Stieglitz or Evans? Who’s my favorite photographer?”
    Hi! David H. Schleicher,

    Oh! Therefore, it is Evans. D.H.S., I must admit that I’ am not familiar with photographer Walker Evans’ yet, but I ‘am with photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

    I was “introduced” to his work (photographs) through an artist that I greatly admire artist/painter Georgia O’Keeffe. (Stieglitz’s wife)

    The link is to website, which feature some of his photographs…one of my favorite photograph by Stieglitz…
    STEERAGE 1907

    DeeDee 😉

    DeeDee, there was a superb Stieglitz exhibition that I saw when the new Perelman Building opened at the Philalelphia Museum of Art. Truly great stuff…and great photo you linked to there. –DHS

  3. “Should she be scared to death or just slightly annoyed by the impending doom?”
    I think that she should have been scared to death…Well, almost to death, but not quite.

    “Billboards and Houses in Atlanta (Georgia, 1936). There is so much detail captured here…houses that have probably long since been demolished and movies no one remembers or watches anymore.”

    D.H.S.,I take it that you don’t visit some females (and males) college students’ film blogs.
    Believe me I don’t mean to sound like a “smart-aleck,” but, some of them are writing reviews and posting pictures of films older than these two films on their blogs.

    “From left to right, the boys facing out represent a motley crew of characters: the serious one, the wisecracker, the impatient one, and the slow one. Ten years later they would be marching off to war and would become the Greatest Generation.”

    Wow, that is something to think about…their unknown future.
    Thanks, for sharing!
    DeeDee 😉

    DeeDee, I was implying that the particular films in those billboards are not well-known (or widely seen) films today. I did not mean to imply there weren’t tons of people worldwide who enjoy older films than those! Heck, I believe you and I are among them! –DHS

  4. The detail in Evans work is a visual delight of a bygone era. His use of space and framing is exquisite. I was fortunate enough to see an exhibit of his work at the Metroploitan Museum of Art in NY back in 2000.

    John…yes, I am most struck by his simple framing techniques…and all the details he is able to capture. Wonderful stuff! –DHS

  5. What an absolutely fascinating lot of photos. I love this stuff, and i wouldn’t contest that Evans is one of the greatest. I’d like to check and see if that Lombard movie is available as well as the one with Anne Shirley. The industrial graveyard, the sons of the American Legion maybe 7 years before they will be drafted and the quizzical girl on Fulton Street right before the crash…..these are all priceless. David my man you have exquisite taste! Thanks for treating us to this.

    I’m assuming you are confident with Lee on the mound tonight, no?

    Sam…I’m still trying to figure out what movie was being advertised in “Torn Movie Poster.”

    Well, I’m about as confident as a guy can be with his team facing elimination. It’s Lee or no one. –DHS

  6. David: Good Luck tonight. I feel for you and know you are probably tense. It is certainly conceivable we can have a seven-game series as you originally promised, but it all depends on how the starting pitching pans out. Three days rest could be a serious problem for the Yankees. In any case, they should walk Utley every time he steps up to the plate! LOL!

    Sam, thanks, I’m biting my nails as I type. I’m still pullin’ for the seven gamer. Game seven all bets would be off and all hands on deck. –DHS

  7. I know I’m late to this one, David, but incredible stuff here. I know nothing about photography and for me Walker Evans is just one of those names that I recognized, but honestly would have no idea why I recognize it. The fourth and fifth photos are amazing.

    Dave, thanks for stopping by. I’m glad I could open your eyes to some of Walker Evans’ work. –DHS

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