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Walker Evans - The Photographers' Gallery

15 May – 12 July 2003
8 Great Newport Street

‘Nobody should touch a Polaroid [camera] until he’s over sixty’

This show will bring more than seventy polaroid pictures by Walker Evans to the UK for the first time. They will be seen alongside sixty of his earlier work, revealing a new insight to his approach, technique and his fascination with the vernacular of American life.

Walker Evans became best known for his early work during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was at this time that the U.S. government became aware of the potential power of documentary black and white photography in the fight against poverty. Several photographers, including Evans and Dorothea Lange, were sent to photograph sharecroppers and their lives in the rural deep south, under the aegis of President Roosevelt’s New Deal Resettlement Administration (which later became the Farm Security Administration). In 1936 Evans spent several weeks in Hale County, Alabama, with the writer James Agee. The book of their work, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, was published in 1941 and is now heralded as an American classic.

Evans was greatly influenced by the French photographer Eugène Atget, who restlessly and obsessively recorded the people, buildings, shops and homes of Paris in the early twentieth century. While Evans’ subjects were less localised, he revisited several similar broad themes throughout his career: storefront displays and shop windows; handmade and machine-made commercial signs; religious and domestic architecture; interior and exterior shots and portraits of passers-by and friends. This show will examine how he revisits these tropes throughout his career.

Much less is known about Evans’ work after 1940, although he continued to take photographs until the final year of his life. Four months shy of his seventieth birthday, and recovering from an illness, Evans bought an SX-70 camera and was supplied with film by Polaroid. Even in his twilight years he was never afraid to experiment. Despite denouncing colour film as ‘vulgar’, Evans had dabbled in it throughout his career, as can be seen in his work for Fortune magazine. At first he saw the SX-70 camera ‘as a toy’, but it was to prove a rejuvenating one. From 1973 to late 1974 he took over 2,500 small, instant colour snapshots to produce the ‘strange and wonderful fruit of a late, unexpected harvest’ In these polaroids we see him revisit the familiar tropes of previous work in a new and fresh way.

Thanks to Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York, Howard Greenberg, New York and Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris


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