About This Artwork

Walker Evans
American, 1903–1975

Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer's Wife, 1936, printed c. 1962

Gelatin silver print
21 x 17 cm (image/paper); 45.7 x 35.6 cm (mount)
No markings recto or verso

Restricted gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne, 1962.158

“Unrelieved, bare-faced, revelatory fact,” read the monograph that accompanied Walker Evans’s photographs when many of them were displayed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1938. Taken during the preceding two years, while he traveled throughout the South for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) under the direction of Roy Stryker, these images document the plight of the rural poor during the Depression. With clinical precision and a fastidious reserve, Evans photographed main streets, storefronts, hand-painted signs, gas stations, abandoned buildings, and automobiles. He took pictures of tenant farmers’ homes—their kitchens, beds, bureau drawers, and fireplaces—with and without their occupants. Taken for Fortune magazine while Evans, on leave from the FSA, was traveling with the writer James Agee, this famous photograph shows a tenant farmer’s wife standing outside her house. With patient dignity, she looks straight at the viewer, a shy half-smile on her lips. This work is part of a remarkable collaboration with Agee published in the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). As one of the nation’s finest documentary photographers, Evans continued this exacting and lucid description of American culture throughout his career.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul," October 1, 1999-January 31, 2000.

Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, "Hot Streaks," February 21, 2004 - May 2, 2004, (David Travis) (Galleries 2, 3, 4).

Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, “The Concerned Photographer,” March 18–June 11, 2006. (Katherine Bussard, Newell G. Smith, Gregory Harris)

Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, "Max Kozloff: Critic and Photographer," October 5, 2013–January 5, 2014. (Michal Raz-Russo)

Publication History

Wood, James N. and Teri J. Edelstein. 1997. "The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide." Publications Department of the Art Institute of Chicago. p 183.

Wood, James N. 2000. "Treasures from The Art Institute of Chicago." Hudson Hills Press, Inc. p. 276.

Wood, James N. 2003. "The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide - Revised Edition." Publications Department of the Art Institute of Chicago. p 183.

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