City Lunch Counter, Lexington Ave., c.1930
Silver gelatin print
Printed for the book First & Last (1978)
13 x 20.5 cm.
Hand-written notation on verso from Evans estate executor John T. Hill, “This print was made from Walker Evans original negative by Amos Chan under the supervision of Evans’ estate. John T Hill”.
No other photographer has captured the zeitgeist of 1930-1940s America as cogently as Walker Evans. From his iconic suite of Depression-era photographs commissioned by the Farm Security Administration, to his acutely personal snapshots of strangers on the New York City subway, Evans is celebrated for his proclivities as artist, historian, and modern anthropologist. Indeed, his images are embedded in social memory thanks to the fastidious nuance with which he depicted vernacular scenes.
Before the rural FSA photographs or subway portraits, Evans was displaying the same shrewd sensitivity that would distinguish him as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. City Lunch Counter provides a transitory glimpse into a lunchroom near Grand Central terminal. Like a diorama behind glass, Evans’s early print preserves a particular moment in New York: a hectic period for business where lunch breaks could be shortened with coin-operated automats. Anticipating the photographic experiments of later practitioners like Lee Friedlander, Evans deftly composites background windows and foreground reflections, building an even fuller picture of New York’s bustling atmosphere. The three men, variously engaged with and oblivious to the camera, are neither mythologised nor heroic, but utterly everyday. Characteristic of Evans’s work, City Lunch Counter is equally momentary and momentous.
Walker Evans (1903-1975, b. St. Louis, Missouri) is a foremost figure in twentieth-century photography. Taking up the camera in 1928, he became a progenitor of American documentary photography. Evans was a staff photographer for Fortune for twenty years, during which he worked with writer James Agee on an illustrated article on tenant farm families, a collaboration that resulted in the landmark publication Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. After leaving Fortune, Evans served as a professor of photography and graphic design at Yale University until 1974, a year before his death. His photographs are included in museum collections worldwide and, together with his writing, continue to be widely published. The most recent catalogue, Depth of Field (2015), was produced in conjunction with a major touring retrospective, and will be seen at the Vancouver Art Gallery this October.