The J. Paul Getty Museum

Subway Portraits

Object Details


Subway Portraits


Walker Evans (American, 1903 - 1975)




1938–1941; assembled about 1959


Gelatin silver print

Object Number:



6.7 × 4.8 cm (2 5/8 × 1 7/8 in.)


© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Object Description

Beneath the skyscrapers, bridges, and streets, New York built a subway system. Construction began in 1900, the public boarded in 1904, and by the 1930s there were 650 miles of subterranean rapid transit in operation. The cost of a ride was five cents; for the purposes of Walker Evans's continuing quest to obtain anonymous portraits, this was the place "where the people of the city range themselves at all hours under the most constant conditions."

In order to remain inconspicuous, Evans used a hidden camera: a small, fast Contax that he painted flat black, strapped to his chest, and operated with a long wire strung down his right sleeve. He and the writer James Agee may have planned to collaborate on a volume of subway portraits, but Evans's concern about adverse reactions from some of his unsuspecting sitters caused him to defer this idea until 1966. This maquette of sixteen prints was assembled, but never used, for that endeavor, which he finally published with Agee's Introduction as the book Many Are Called.


Walker Evans, American, 1903 - 1975, sold to Arnold Crane.

- 1984

Arnold Crane, American, 1932 - 2014, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1984.

Walker Evans: New York (July 28, 1998 to April 2, 2000)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), July 28 to October 11, 1998
  • Museum Folkwang (Essen), February 6 to April 2, 2000
Walker Evans (February 1, 2000 to March 4, 2001)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), February 1 to May 14, 2000
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco), June 2 to September 12, 2000
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, December 17, 2000 to March 4, 2001
How You Look at It: Photographs of the 20th Century (May 14 to December 12, 2000)
  • Sprengel Museum (Hannover), May 14 to August 6, 2000
  • Städtische Galerie im Städelsches Kunstinstitut (Frankfurt), August 23 to November 12, 2000
Street & Studio (May 23, 2008 to January 11, 2009)
  • Tate Modern (London), May 23 to August 31, 2008
  • Museum Folkwang (Essen), October 10, 2008 to January 11, 2009
Walker Evans (April 26, 2017 to February 4, 2018)
  • Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), April 26 to August 14, 2017
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco), September 30, 2017 to February 4, 2018

Walker Evans: New York, exh. brochure (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum), fig. 2.

Chéroux, Clément, ed. Walker Evans, exh. cat. (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2017), p. 257 left.