Last Chance to See Iconic Photographer at SFMOMA

A photo of a shoeshine stand taken in the Southeastern U.S. in 1936. The image was captured by photographer Walker Evans.

“Shoeshine stand, Southeastern U.S.,” by Walker Evans (1936).
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Photographer Walker Evans, best known for his work documenting everyday life during the Great Depression, has a new home: Until February 4, his work will be displayed as part of an exhibit at SFMOMA. Including everything from his earliest self-portraits to his photographs capturing average men and women on the streets, the SFMOMA exhibit is so large, it needs two huge sets of galleries to contain all of the photographs and others works. Those other works include a video of Evans talking about his art and the other artists who inspired him.

An exhibit of this size and scope doesn’t happen without a Board of Trustees including some pretty big names, such as Thom Weisel, the Silicon Valley business bigwig; Marissa Mayer, the former CEO of Yahoo!; and actor Bradley James, to name a few.

Evans’s work is worth seeing via a presentation like this because of its importance to the history of the U.S.—not just the evolution of photography.

Despite being born into privilege in 1901, Evans’s MO with his work was always to depict people as they really are—in particular lower class Americans who were often overlooked. A contemporary of Hemingway, Evans’s photographs included everyday people, storefronts, and Southern churches. He bridged the gap between the formal photography of the 19th century and the more realistic photography of the 20th century and beyond.

In the 1920s, Evans was hired by the government to photograph migrant farmers and their families to prove that government support programs during the Great Depression were working. However, once Evans saw the actual state of these families, he refused to produce propaganda and instead focused on photographing what life was really like for these people.

The SFMOMA exhibit is unusual not only in its size, but in that it’s the only presentation of this collection in the U.S. It includes over 300 prints (many of which have never been shown) and about 100 documents and objects from Evans’s personal collection.

If you’re in the area, don’t miss this exhibit. SFMOMA is open Fridays-Tuesdays 10 AM to 5 PM and Thursdays 10 AM to 9 PM.

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