Despite rejecting the claim of “fine artist” like his French counterpart Eugene Atget, Walker Evans is widely viewed as the pioneer of the photographic art in America. With his seminal work “Ameriacn photographs” he became the first Photographer to have a standalone show in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. He is renowned for his documentary almost anti Photographic Style which is summed up by his mentor and friend Lincoln Kirstein when he says “Photography in itself almost probably does not interest him”
Evans always dreamed of being a writer and was heavily influenced by the work of T.S Elliot and Ernst Hemmingway which is evident in the dramatic anti-romantic nature of his work. Coming from a wealthy background, being the son of an Advertising Executive allowed Evans
to travel to Paris in his early 20’s where he learned from the photography of Eugene Atget. Returning to America after a year in Paris, armed with a new found French intellectualism and in the words of Kirstein began photographing “the contemporary civilisation of Eastern America and its dependencies as Atget gave gave us in Paris before the war” with shots of clear, hideous and beautiful detail.
American Photographs although lacking obvious continuity and physically existing as separate prints can be read as a series or collection of statements deriving from and presenting a consistent attitude. The opening picture of a photo-booth proclaims "Photos" and points us in ironically in the direction of what’s to follow. The photographs are almost always shot front on, with a rigorous directness. His eye is open and visible. There is no need to dramatize the material. It is already intensely dramatic.
The relationship of man and machinery in industrial America is a theme that is consistent throughout. Evans is obsessed with mans reliance on the machine and the obvious scarring of the landscape that results. He is concerned with the psychology of the people who use them. He shoots Architecture with a view to looking at the people behind it, those who use the building or those who built them. In the barbers shop picture he does the opposite simply shooting two empty chairs suggesting instead an absence of people.
Evans pictures to my mind have a humorous aspect to them. He sarcastically questions “good taste” architecture of the time, mimicking post revolutionary New England and colonial architecture moulded with stucco instead of being sculpted from stone. Symbolic fragments like that of the cracked iron cast moulding or pressed tin Corinthian capitals demonstrate this.