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Subway Portraits
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© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Walker Evans
American, New York City, 1938-41; probably assembled about 1959
Gelatin silver prints
2 5/8 x 1 7/8 in.
84.XM.956.792

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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.