From the 1920s until he died in 1975, Walker Evans’ work set a high bar for documentary photography, revealing poetry in the ordinary. He was a photographer’s photographer, already accomplished by the time of his unique collaboration in 1941 on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a groundbreaking book written by his friend James Agee (himself a unique talent – a writer’s writer).
Evans’ career was not a straight path to what he became famous for, not least because he drew from a much larger culture than photography alone.
Known for being a most American photographer, documenting ordinary lives and environments, his focus came out of an early antipathy for his own country; he started as a writer influenced by European taste and culture, where he got assigned to see the conditions he would choose to document on film.
Every photographer in the Western world, documentary, commercial, or fine art, can trace a link in their work back to Walker Evans.
Meredith Mendelsohn, writing for the terrific Artsy website, has written a well-informed, thoughtful piece on the opening of a major museum retrospective.