by Eric Kim
I want to write about a photographer that most art and photography students know, but not that many street photographers know (or appreciate) online.
That photographer is Walker Evans, one of the most pivotal American photographer from the 20th century. He inspired a league of influential street photographers such as Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus, and even Bruce Gilden. He is most famous for photographing the Great Depression with the FSA, his candid work of Subway riders in NYC, and his street photos and urban landscapes all around America (his most famous book being “American Photographs” which was the first photography exhibition to be held at the New York MOMA. He was also a non-dogmatic photographer who often proclaimed that the camera didn’t matter and experimented with the 35mm format of the Leica, the 2 1/4 format of the Rolleiflex, the cumbersome 8×10 large-format, and even using a Polaroid SX-90 more or less exclusively towards the end of his life.
There is a lot that I don’t know about Walker Evans, so I made it a point to learn more about him through doing research for this article. I hope that you find his work to be as inspirational as mine.
Before I start this article, I want to share this excerpt that Robert Frank said about Evans and his influence on his famous project, “The Americans“:
“When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: ‘To transform destiny into awareness.’ One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?” – Robert Frank
1. Make a living with a day job.
Like many photographers and artists, Evans was always straddling the line between paying his bills and being dead broke. Not only that, but Evans resented and was very reluctant to take on commercial work. Starting off, Evans supplemented his photography by having a day job, which ultimately gave him the freedom to photograph on his own terms. He shares more in an interview:
L.K. How did you make a living?
Walker Evans: I had a night job on Wall Street in order to be free in the daytime. It paid for room and food. You didn’t have to sleep or eat much. In those days I was rather ascetic; I didn’t lead the bohemian life Crane led.
Takeaway point: Evans held a day job (or in this case, “night job”) in order to pay his bills which also gave him the freedom to photograph during the day as he’d like. I think in life freedom to do what you want is one of the most valuable things, more than material wealth or anything else. Many of us want more time to shoot on the streets, but we think that we need to work more to earn more money, which will give us more time to shoot on the streets. I used to believe this, but when I had my day job I actually found my job to suck way more physical and mental energy which could have been better used towards my photography.
Therefore realize that regardless of whatever your profession is, photography is your ultimate passion and whatever you do to pay the bills doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that you work as a photographer to pay the bills. Rather, I think it is a better strategy to hold a day job and work on your personal photography projects completely on your own terms (to prevent having professional photography gigs corrupt your personal photography work).
So remember at the end of the day, don’t spend so much time at work (this means not staying in the office after 6pm) that it robs time from your photography. Try to free up as much of your time to go out and shoot.