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At SFMOMA, the Everyday Art of Walker Evans

Never before seen images by the famed photographer.

Walker Evans, Subway Portraits (1938–41), gelatin silver print.

  

Their hard-set jaws and blank stares suggest women lost in thought. So this is what riding the train looked like in the era before iPhones. Walker Evans, the celebrated Depression-era photographer, captured those hard faces with a 35-millimeter camera tucked under his coat, part of a four-year project that’s on display this fall in a major new retrospective of his work at SFMOMA. Clément Chéroux, the museum’s newly installed senior curator of photography, explains what you need to know. Sept. 30-Feb. 4, 2018 

1. A Singular Talent
Art historians consider Evans one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century—the Metropolitan Museum of New York calls his work “an encyclopedic visual catalogue of modern America in the making.” He documented the extreme poverty of rural America in his work with the Farm Security Administration and later entered mainstream consciousness with his work at Fortune and Time magazines.

2. This American Life
More than 300 of Evans’s Depression-era photos will be on display at SFMOMA, along with many other never-before-seen images. Among them are portraits of laborers in Detroit and a memorable photo of workers loading a neon sign reading “Damaged” into a truck. “We now understand how important he was to American culture and the conceptual heart of the 1960s through 1980s,” Chéroux says.

3. Objets D’art?
Evans didn’t just like taking photographs on the road—he also collected bits and pieces from the places he traveled. A portion of his incredible collection of 10,000 postcards, enamel signs, and ticket stubs will be displayed alongside his photographs, including a giant Coca-Cola thermometer that he allegedly stole while at Yale. 

 

Originally published in the September issue of San Francisco 

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