Discussion Topic: Walker Evans’ Subway Portraits

Evans’ photographed people on the New York City subways between 1938-1941.  He only published these photographs 25 years later in his book, Many Are Called, which was re-issued in 2004.  Read a review about the new edition in the New York Times or listen to a radio interview of the book’s re-release and a related exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Then look at some of Evans photographs on the Getty website or on Visualingual’s blog.  What do you think of Evans’ clandestine approach to photography?  Do you see similarities between the riders’ expressions during the Depression Era to today’s riders?

New York Times Book review

NPR interview with Met curator Jeff Rosenheim (audio)

Getty Collection of Walker Evans Subway Portraits

Visualingual’s Blog on Walker Evans’ Subway Portraits

Please post your responses and comments by Saturday, April 14.

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4 Responses to Discussion Topic: Walker Evans’ Subway Portraits

  1. richardb says:

    I think Evans’ clandestine approach to photography was a smart idea because if may other photographers knew what Evans was doing. They would try to make work similar to Evans work in the Subway. Also it was a good idea because many people in the subway in that time period and today would not appreciate someone taking their picture with their permission. Looking at the pictures from Evans collection, I do see a similarity between the riders’ expressions during the Depression Era to today’s riders. The similarities I saw between the two is both in the Depression Era and today’s riders is they all have a sleepy facial expression. Also they look like they are angry and look like they day dreaming

  2. Boris Simkhayev says:

    Evans’ idea was beyond genius. He figured out how to take photos of the “real person”, because usually people pose, put a smile on, have a set up stage, but Evans’ clandestine was that he took photos of vivid and purely natural based emotions of local people in the subway. Many of the people look as if they are day dreaming and or bored. I think most of the photos were taken in the morning time and or night time, which means people were still sleepy or at night time, they were cranky and tired from work. Today’s riders have the same exact expressions. From dusk till dawn, everyone looks tired and cranky and sleepy. As much as no one would like their picture taken, Evans made a remarkable idea into art. From his photos we can see the true side to everyone, not necessarily their “fake smile” and kind gestures.

  3. yennyrosario says:

    Evan’s walking, had a brilliant ideal on how to capture people while they were in subways. The article states how Walking, felt and why he specifically captures images of people using the train system. He states that people always had a naked look tried face that allow him to capture people’s face in their most natural ways .These picture were publish 25 years later and where the images that allow some distraction for the subways users. I felt that the spy approach he took when photographing was very smooth and intelligent. Since his main subjects were subway users and if they notice he was using a camera they would have posed or felt discomfort toward him taking a picture of them.

  4. smarte5 says:

    First off I have to give it to Evans, for such a sneaky well thought out idea on how to capture people in their most vulnerable moments, especially in that time period. Just imagine yourself back then actually watching this guy move on the Subway. I think he would appear to a very colorful character to watch, much like most that you find today on the Subway. Probably wearing a long coat ducking into to it to roll to the next film after every shot he took. People pretending to avoid eye contact when they clearly are watching his every move. Probably thinking to themselves, “this guy must be either off his rocker or some kind of spy”. Personally I think I would have found it very amusing to watch this guy. But regardless of it all I for the most part, agree with Boris Simkhayev in the fact that Evans was able to catch “The Real Person” because people really show who they are when they think someone isn’t watching them or trying to avoid them especially in the Subway. Posing & smiling for Pictures is great and something that I personally enjoy but its not as they say an “Authentic Expression”. Viewing some of the photos he took are kind of nostalgic for me since I myself am a Subway rider & really not much has changed from the 1940s till now as far as peoples expressions when riding the Subway…..except for a few iPods, iPads, Laptops, & other mobile devices that try to keep us entertained. But regardless I think Evans took a very unique approach & in turn came out with some very interesting Photos.

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