American; b. St. Louis, 1903–d. New Haven, Conn., 1975
Penny Picture Display, Savannah
Gift of the Rev. Jo C. Tartt, Jr.
Born in St. Louis in 1903, photographer Walker Evans initially aspired to be a writer. Ultimately he transferred his admiration of the exacting prose of such realist authors as Gustave Flaubert and Henry James into the precise and often detached observations on display in his photographs. He referred to photography as “the most literary of the graphic arts” for its ability to show “qualities of eloquence, wit, grace, and economy.”
During a career that spanned nearly 50 years, Evans generated some of the most lyrical, iconic images of America in the 20th century. The camera became an instrument that allowed him to embed critical perspectives within his poetic vision of the everyday. In Penny Picture Display, Evans features a vernacular subject—an advertisement in the window of a portrait photographer’s studio during the Depression era—that also refers to image-making itself. The layering of text and portraits within a photograph results in a picture that manages to appear simultaneously open and complex. Penny Picture Display, featured in Evans’s seminal book American Photographs (1938), invites the viewer to not only look but also to read the photograph closely, as if a document written by Evans.