Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975) was not the first photographer
who aimed to capture the particular, sometimes peculiar, nature of American
culture. The quest to visually identify the unique character of all things
American began in the mid-1800s, shortly after photography's invention.
Later, Evans continued this tradition, defining the subject so well that many
other photographers and artists were influenced by his work. The American
Tradition & Walker Evans: Photographs from the Getty Collection
illuminates how photographers working before and around Evans captured
and defined quintessentially American subjects.
Evans's first museum exhibition in 1938 was titled American Photographs.
In naming it, he seems to have been largely unaware of this distinguished
history and the dozens of photographers who anticipated his interest in
typically American images. Evans's contribution was rooted in an attention
to the everyday: small-town main streets, modes of transportation, the
American people themselves, the places they called home, and the
monuments that told their history, as well as the signs and storefronts that
advertised and sold the products they used.
The works in this exhibition, drawn from the Getty's extensive holdings of
American photographs, were made by nearly thirty different photographers
active before or contemporary with Evans. Together these photographs suggest
a consistency in representing American visual culture and are the foundation
of the American photographic tradition that continues today.