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Artist
Walker Evans
Title
Untitled
Date
1934
Medium
vintage gelatin silver print
Dimensions
Image: 5 1/4 × 6 1/2 inches (13.3 × 16.5 cm)Framed: 14 1/16 × 17 inches (35.7 × 43.2 cm)
Tags
Photography
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Robert O. Levitt.
Accession Number
2002.3.5
One of the most celebrated photographers of the twentieth century, Walker Evans not only had a profound effect on the art world of his and future times but also changed how the public viewed vernacular culture. Inspired by the writing of Gustave Flaubert and Charles Baudelaire, Evans had early aspirations of becoming a writer himself. However, finding his talents lacking in that area, he turned to photography because he believed it was the “most literary of the arts.” Looking to the work of photographers Eugene Atget and Paul Strand whom he admired, Evans “set out to prove that apparently documentary photographs could be as complex as a fine piece of writing, as difficult and rewarding in their demands.” His straightforward documentary style and ability to produce photographs that honored everyday life as art quickly gained recognition. In 1935 he was asked to join other photographers in the Historical Division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and to participate in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program to produce a record of rural America during the Great Depression. During his tenure he was able to perfect his style and hone his approach to the subject. Although Evans was the least productive of the eleven FSA photographers, his images are among the most poignant.

Like his famous photographs of rural subjects, Untitled, taken in 1934 in New York City, is a product of Evans’s insightful observations of ordinary people and popular culture. The strength of the photograph lies in the tension between the three men and their juxtaposition with and the Old Gold Cigarettes advertisement in the window behind them. Evans developed an early appreciation for graphic design from his father, who had worked as an advertising executive for Lord and Thomas, one of the pioneer agencies in using mass psychology in advertising. Thus advertising posters, signs, and billboards often form an integral part of Evans’s compositions. One scholar observed that “devoid of signs, many of his photographs would be deprived of their central iconography.” This is certainly the case with this photograph.The juxtaposition of the slouching man on the left with the Old Gold poster is the central principal focus of the composition. His tattered shirtsleeves contrast with the others’ rolled dress shirts, suggesting differences in class. Whether the two men on the right are attempting to help the slouching man or scold him is ambiguous, but his placement between the elegantly dressed woman in the poster and a bottle in the doorway invites some imaginative speculation. As he demonstrates in this print, Evans had an eye for detail and the ability to create a complex image out of a seemingly ordinary scene.

In 1938 Evans exhibited his work in American Photographs, the first one-person photography exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Evans later became a professor at Yale University and continued to photograph, publish, and exhibit his work until his death in 1975.