Brianna Vasquez’s Post on Walker Evans’ Subway Portraits

Walker Evans photographed many people in the New York City subway between 1938-1941 during the Depression Era where the camera played a pivotal role in the culture. Although, in modern times, this particular photography could be viewed as an invasion of privacy; Walker Evans respected those he photographed. He took “spy” pictures by having his 35-millimeter Contax camera hidden in his coat and it was powered by a hand-held device that could produce a shutter. I believe that this surreptitious approach was the best way to capture candid photographs in the constantly evolving variety of people in the city’s range that rode the subways. Still the possibility of the subway passengers having the knowledge of Walker Evans’ photographic actions, unfortunately it would have led to more posed, unnatural photographs. Evans displayed his consideration of those he photographed by publishing his pictures twenty-five years later in his book, “Many Are Called” since this would have allowed the unknowing participants to age enough to become virtually unidentified by the photographs.

The New York City subway riders during the Depression Era are very similar to the subway riders in today’s society. While, Walker Evans was simply trying to document the effects of the Great Depression by photographing the many who had ridden the subways and were suffering. But, these pictures can easily be compared to the modern day subway riders who may be struggling through the recession. I found the subway portrait of the blind man playing an accordion extremely similar to the straphangers who board the train now, in the hopes, of entertaining the passengers in exchange for cash. Many of his other subway inspired photographs depict normal scenes that regularly occur on the train such as a couple conversating or someone being engaged by the attention of a newspaper although nowadays it is most often a phone, tablet, or an electronic, audio device.

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