I first came across Walker Evans when I was looking at the work of Helen Levitt, she accompanied him on his New York subway excursions and devised a similar method in her street photography in which she concealed her image taking. Walker Evans had concealed his camera in his coat so he could take pictures of people travelling on the subway completely unaware.
Walker Evans is most noted for his images taken during the great depression in America, His style was replicated by many photographers thereafter. His social documentary photography was honest, direct and sometimes sad and nostalgic. The images he took in his time working with The Farm Security administration and James Agee were taken to show the extent of rural poverty but they often show the beauty and pride in the people or homesteads that he photographed. His photographs depict the common and familiar of everyday life represented honestly. He has not only photographed the poorer people of society but also architecture, street scenes, commuters and even signage which has left a photographic documentary which has made an impression on our views of America following the depression.
Evans appears to have a sense of humour in some of his typography and signage images, or perhaps it is a sense of irony. I especially like the barber shop image from his collection ‘American Photographs’ which shows a poorly painted barbers shop (The stripes were obviously painted by eye as they are far from even) with a lady, I presume the proprietor, standing in the doorway also wearing stripes as if to mimic her store. Strange also that this barbers, which we usually associate with men, advertises ladies neck shaves and ladies’ hair bobs. And the neighbouring store, a drug store, is advertising cigars!
In a book entitled ‘Reading Photographs’ (Salkeld,2013) Walker Evans is said to have said:
Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen. Eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.