Square-Format Art: Walker Evans’ Snapshots of American Life


In 1936, Walker Evans arrived in Alabama, USA, on behalf of Fortune magazine. Along with American novelist James Agee, he spent two months living with three desperately impoverished families suffering under the Great Depression. Evans took stunningly stark photographs of their daily struggles, capturing their hollowed cheeks and torn clothes in the dusty streets of the deep South. Almost 30 years after this experience, which pushed him to photographic prominence, Evans picked up a Polaroid for the very first time.

Photos by Walker Evans

Developing an Eye

“I feel that nobody should touch a Polaroid until he's over 60.” — Walker Evans

For Evans, there was no such thing as beginner’s luck. Photography was a craft to be carefully studied — not in the classroom, but out on the streets. Every photograph you take is a vital experience that feeds back into your practice, allowing you to be a little sharper or a tad closer next time. This insatiable desire to endlessly develop his skills and learn new things is perhaps what led Evans to dive into the world of instant photography in his twilight years, compelled by a lifetime’s experience behind the lens.

Photos by Walker Evans

A Considered Instinct

“You have to know what you're pointing it at, and why, even if it's only instinctive.” — Walker Evans

Behind every instinct, there is a solid and compelling reason for wanting to immortalise the moment. Maybe the way the colors caught the light, or the look in someone’s eyes moved you to click the shutter. What matters is not whether it captured anyone else, but why it struck a chord with you. For Evans, this clarity of impulse was made doubly important by the immediacy of instant photography. A camera that gives you the option to create an image and hold it in your hands just seconds later brings with it the significant responsibility of capturing a moment that means something — even if only to you.

Photos by Walker Evans

Be Open to Adventure

“Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” — Walker Evans

We live in a beautiful, bizarre and bewildering world, full of amazing people doing incredible things. For Evans, the purpose of photography was simple — to explore. Pay attention to the little things that make the ordinary extraordinary. Lose yourself in the details that make life on this little rock hurtling around the sun so breathtaking. You won't be sorry.

written by Martha Reed on 2018-03-22 #culture

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