Jul 16, 2011

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

(LoC) On July 16, 1936, photographer Walker Evans (1903-75) took a leave of absence from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) to accept a summer assignment with Fortune magazine. Evans, who had begun working as a photographer in 1928, had developed a modest reputation by the time that he was hired in October 1935 by Roy Stryker, then leader of the FSA photographic section. Stryker agreed to grant him leave for the magazine assignment on the condition that his photographs remained government property.
Evans and the writer James Agee spent several weeks among sharecropper families in Hale County, Alabama. The article they produced documented in words and images the lives of poor Southern farmers afflicted by the Great Depression; their work, however, did not meet Fortune's expectations and was rejected for publication.
Evans' desire to produce photographs that were "pure record not propaganda" did not harmonize with Stryker's emphasis on the use of the image to promote social activism. Soon after the Alabama series was completed, Evans returned to New York. There Evans and Agee reworked their material and searched for another publisher. In 1941, the expanded version of their story was published in book form as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, now recognized as a masterpiece of the art of photojournalism. Continued