Negroes, Tallahassee, Florida, ca. 1941
Walker Evans (United States, 1903–1975)
Silver gelatin print
7 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches
Gift of Arnold H. Crane 1982-28-18
Walker Evans was born into wealth in St. Louis and pursued his education at Andover Academy and Williams College. He moved to New York in the 1920s and lived for a year in Europe, studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. On his return to the United States, Evans took up photography. His work was nearly always commissioned by magazines or by federal programs designed to assist poor farmers during the Great Depression. Despite, or perhaps because of, Evans's privileged background, his best-known photographs are of destitute southern sharecroppers during the height of the Depression. Several were published in Evans's experimental book collaboration with writer James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). Evans was also known for his photographs of African sculpture and regional American architecture, such as antebellum plantation houses in the Deep South and Victorian buildings in the Northeast.
Like most of his previous work, Negroes, Tallahassee, Florida was part of a series produced in collaboration with a writer, in this case Karl Bickel, the former head of United Press International. Having retired to Florida, Bickel wanted to prepare a book on the history of the west coast of the state, to be called The Mangrove Coast. For the project, Evans did not photograph Florida's beaches but instead concentrated on the idiosyncrasies of local culture—Greek sponge divers in Tarpon Springs, retirees in Tampa, tourists, postcard displays, camper trailers, and, especially, images of the circus such as dancing elephants, posters, and circus-train cars. During his six-week stay, Evans made a side trip to Tallahassee to photograph views such as this one. The image of the milling crowd on the sidewalk recalls Evans's street scenes in Havana and New Orleans, and harkens to his time recording the street life of Paris years before. The photographer's powers of observation during his nearly fifty-year career earned him a reputation as one of the most influential American photographers of all time.
Text by Brenda Mitchell, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008