Homework #2: Walker Evans’ Subway Portraits

Walker 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. 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?

Walker Evans, Subway Couple

Walker Evans, Subway Couple

New York Times Book review

NPR interview with Met curator Jeff Rosenheim (audio)

Getty Collection of Walker Evans Subway Portraits

To complete this homework assignment, please submit a Post and Comment on another student’s post (choose any of your classmates’ posts to comment on).


Monday and Tues/Thurs sections, please post your responses by Thursday, May 5th TUESDAY MAY 3RD.

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6 Responses to Homework #2: Walker Evans’ Subway Portraits

  1. ksalas94 says:

    Evan’s approach to subway photography is unique due to the disguised photo taking approach. He was able to take photographs of unwary subway riders while their guard is down, a feat that would be unheard of and unwanted by today’s people. Evans managed to capture the genuine expression of these people without having the subway riders pose or be manipulated in any form. This kind of photography may not sit well in today’s era, even when photography is accessible to everyone.

    Oddly enough, the photographs of the depression era do share similar traits to modern day subway riders. Most of the images depict a person or group of people just minding their own business or looking off to another direction, two behaviors that modern subway riders tend to do when riding. Both depression era and current era people may be striving toward the same goal which is getting to work, since both the depression era and current era have people working just to get by.

  2. chana morris says:

    Walker Evans approach to photography is so real. I love the way he captures in the moment expressions. There is no formal set up. People are genuinely minding their own business and relaxing on the subway wherever there destination may be. The riders today are quite similar. We read books, magazines, newspapers, etc. The major difference today is all the electronic devices people have with them. They can be riding with friends and family and still not be present. They are so involved with their phones and games. I wonder what Walkers photographs would look like today if he were trying to capture these moments spent on the train.
    Many people today still look like the riders from the 1930s.People are deep in thought, smiling, frowning and minding their own business. I always admire people from the Great Depression Era, their modest dress and the way they conducted themselves is fascinating to capture in photography. The facial expressions were very real, there were less external distractions. (Although they were suffering internally and externally on a different level due to the great depression..)Walker definitely captured the moments on the subway beautifully and its neat to see how similar and yet so different the passengers are today.

    • 333Daisy333 says:

      I agree with Chana regarding the similarities between the passengers in Evans time to those of today. People are more relaxed because nobody they know is actively looking at them. Riders on the trains just want to get to their destination in peace. We (most) tend to withdraw within themselves when on public transportation. We are restraining ourselves from drawing too much attention even when two familiar people may be talking. Two people talking generally don’t want everyone to know their business so they speak in low tones. Passengers appear to be absent-minded on the train and that’s logical. If Evans were to photograph the modern-day people, the expression wouldn’t be so different except for perhaps the people who were engaged on their phones. They would be enraptured by their electronic devices. If we really think about it, it’s just another form of entertainment/to pass the time, kind of like: newspapers, books and articles.

  3. jean says:

    Walker evans photos were captivating. The way he captured real expressions of subway riders. The expression and looks people had in their face. It looked like they were really experiencing the depression during that time. Their face bland and pale and just with a sort of sorrow and sadness. In Evans photos it can be compared to todays subway riders. If you really ride the subway and do the same thing that Evans was doing by staring at people you do notice peoples expression. You can really see what they going through if they happy or sad if they are in a bad mood or just look like that. People’s expressions can really be enhanced when you ride alone in a subway car, just thinking about your life or reflecting on it.

    • Leidy says:

      I agree with Jean, Walker Evans photos were captivating. I feel like Walker Evans went straight to the point, no props, not telling the people how to pose or anything. He took the picture naturally, especially compared to today cause those are natural characteristics in subways or anywhere really. When riding subways or sitting at a doctors waiting room you see natural expressions of others and I feel that Walker Evans wanted to show a picture of natural things not something that you crop or spend a lot of time perfecting it. Natural is perfection.

  4. Dana Moreno says:

    These photos are captivating because they are so real, this is reality shown through the subjects of these images. They were all natural and the subjects didn’t know they were being photographs so they weren’t posed or anything. You could really see the emotions on their face and you could feel the effect the depression had on them just by looking at these photos. You can tell a lot about a person when they aren’t looking or aware that you see them and these photos really show that.

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