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Walker Evans: Insights into Photojournalism
Author’s Note: The term “Negro” was used historically to describe people of Black (sub-Saharan) African heritage, but it’s offensive use is unacceptable in contemporary practice. The term is repeated here in the context of historical exhibition and publication titles that are under discussion.

Walker Evans (1903-1975), an American photographer and photojournalist, arguably had the greatest influence on the evolution of photography in the 20th century. He gained recognition for moving beyond the highly aestheticized, artistic photography that preceded his era, with his own constructed images of an unidealized American life throughout the Great Depression.

In 1935, Roy Stryker hired Evans to photograph for the Resettlement Administration and later Farm Security Administration, which were New Deal era projects tasked with creating a pictorial record of American life. Developed out of a program designed to lift farmers out of poverty during the Depression, the documentary photography project included seminal artists including Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, Marion Post Wolcott, Gordon Parks, among others. Running until 1944, it remains one of the largest documentary projects ever undertaken.

Walker Evans, Faces, Pennsylvania Town (variation), 1936, printed later.
Gelatin silver print, unframed.
Sold for $2,952

The photographs that Evans made during this time show a commitment to an unsentimental style that rejects the dramatics in favor of clearly described and distinctive domestic experiences. Evans photographed for the FSA during the early years of its run and in 1938, influential curator Lincoln Kirstein included many of these works in the exhibition Walker Evans: American Photographs. The exhibition was the first single-photographer exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and the accompanying catalogue is often held as one of the most important photobooks in the history of photography.

Walker Evans, Maine Pump (Kennebunk, Maine), 1933, printed 1974. Gelatin silver print, unframed.
Sold for $2,489

Directly preceding his celebrated work for the FSA, Alfred H. Barr the first director of MoMA, commissioned Evans to prepare photographs of over 600 sculptures–many of them masterpieces–that were arriving for the 1935 exhibition African Negro Art. This was the first example of an American art museum displaying African artifacts for their aesthetic qualities rather than ethnographic concerns and has been acknowledged as the catalyst for placing African Art within in the historical context of Western art. MoMA and Evans produced seventeen copies of African Negro Art for an ensuing portfolio of 477 photographs that were to be offered to museums and educational institutions.

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975), Benin bronze statue. Gelatin silver print, matted.
Estimate $800-1,200

Following in the footsteps of Charles Sheeler, who fifteen years prior photographed the collection of art collector John Quinn for the portfolio and publication African Negro Wood Sculpture, Evans was tasked with documenting the incoming loans in a presentation to serve as an archival record of the exhibition. Unlike Sheeler, who used studio lighting to create dramatic modernist reinterpretations of the objects he photographed, Evans was tasked with creating an educational experience. The resulting photographs document their subjects in a diffuse lighting with the goal of allowing the viewer to have uninterrupted access to the material being photographed. He utilized the frame by constructing tightly cropped compositions that removed any context from the objects, creating his own modernist interpretation.

Walker Evans, Congo Helmet mask, MOMA catalogue number 454. Gelatin silver print, matted.
Estimate $800-1,200
Walker Evans, Benin bronze plaque, MOMA catalogue number 282. Gelatin silver print, matted.
Estimate $800-1,200

In the years that have passed since Evans produced the photographs for African Negro Art, our understanding and appreciation of art and photography have evolved. At the time they were made, cultural property laws and protections were still in their infancy and the marketplace for African antiquities was wide open to Western collectors and institutions, creating ramifications that are being confronted to this day. While Evans’s goal was to create a document with educational merit, and they certainly are reference points for contemporary scholars, they can also be read as a reflection of the time in which they were created.

Walker Evans, Luba Headrest, MOMA catalogue number 468. Gelatin silver print, matted.
Estimate $800-1,200

Viewers today can appreciate the aesthetic qualities of the photographs and a close look can show stylistic comparisons to many of the iconic works that Evans produced throughout his long career. Find examples of his photography and many more representations similar to the sculptures in our auctions.

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Consider reading:
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Bonhams Announces Acquisition of Skinner
Bonhams Skinner Boston Gallery

London Bonhams, the global auction house, has acquired the renowned US auction house, Skinner. The company will be known as Bonhams Skinner. Financial terms are not being disclosed.

Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Skinner holds around 80 sales a year in 20 collecting categories including Americana, Fine Art and Collectibles, and Wine, and ranging from fine violins to contemporary paintings. Important sales have included a Qing Dynasty vase sold for $24.7m in 2014, a record price at the time for Chinese art in the US; the record-setting sale of Manchester Harbor by American artist Fitz Henry Lane that achieved $5.5m in 2004, which remains the highest price for a work of art ever realised at a New England auction; and a bottle of whisky believed to be the oldest known (c.1860s) which achieved $137,500 in June 2021.… Read More

Chatham Consignment Day | March 22

Meet with Skinner Specialists in Chatham, Cape Cod

TUESDAY, MARCH 22

Skinner is inviting consignments for upcoming 2022 auctions. Meet with Skinner specialists in Chatham, Cape Cod on March 22 for a complimentary auction evaluation and consignment of your jewelry, fine art, coins & currency, fine silver, modern design and militaria. Appointments required. Please contact us to request an appointment and a member of our team will contact you directly for an appointment time.… Read More

Asia Week New York Preview | Chinese Rugs from The Jim Dixon Collection

Preview Highlights of The Jim Dixon Collection during Asia Week New York

March 21 & 22, 9AM-5PM | 410 Columbus Ave, NYC

Highlights from The Jim Dixon ‘Hesperides Collection’ will be on view at The Culture Center. Proof of vaccination and masks are required. 

About the Collection

Jim Dixon (1943-2020) collected historically and aesthetically significant material and, over time, became a highly regarded Oriental carpet collector.… Read More

The Poetic Charm of Korean Blue and White Porcelain

Korea began to decorate its white porcelain in blue by the early 15th century; a century later than China and two centuries earlier than Japan. During that early Joseon period, Korea had about four hundred kilns in operation to produce quality white porcelain, which the Chinese court often requested as diplomatic tribute and trade. With the infrastructure and quality, the Joseon dynasty could have emerged as one of the world’s two pioneering blue and white porcelain manufacturers along with China.… Read More

No Place Like Home

The pandemic lockdown has taught us how important home is to our sense of well-being, our comfort, and our whole outlook on life. Now is the ideal time for re-decorating, re-purposing, re-modeling, and building anew. With these changes comes the need for different furniture. But where to begin? There are so many possibilities, so many choices.

A great place to start is with fine American furniture, with its four-hundred year tradition of excellence.… Read More

Early Processes
Sixth Plate Daguerreotype of a Sailor Holding a Daguerreotype of His Wife.Sold for $2,726

Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes were some of the earliest photographic processes to gain widespread popularity. Beginning in the mid-19th century, each successive technique improved upon the others in terms of availability, affordability, and processing speed. Photography as we know it today is a reproductive medium, however each of these processes produced single, unique objects.  

Experimenting in close collaboration with Nicéphore Niépce, the first to create a permanent photographic image, Louis Daguerre worked to perfect a commercially viable photographic process.… Read More

Virtual First Tuesday | March 1

Join us for First Tuesday online!

AUCTION EVALUATION DAY | TUESDAY, MARCH 1

See what hidden treasures our experts may be able to reveal

We invite you to join us online for our Virtual First Tuesday on March 1. Submit your items anytime by the 1st and Skinner specialists from all departments will be on hand on Tuesday to evaluate items and respond by email.

Let’s get started: 

Step 1: Gather information and images for up to three items of fine & decorative arts, furniture, jewelry, silver, watches & coins and much more.Read More

Hartford Consignment Day | March 9

Meet with Skinner Specialists in Hartford, CT

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 9

Skinner is inviting consignments for upcoming 2022 auctions. Meet with Skinner specialists in Hartford, CT on March 9 for a complimentary auction evaluation and consignment of your JewelryFine Art, American Antiques, Modern Design and Militaria. Appointments required. Please contact us to request an appointment and a member of our team will contact you directly for an appointment time.… Read More

Art as an (Emotional) Investment

In art, today’s ‘hot’ is tomorrow’s ‘not’

Stocks, bonds, real estate: Mention the word “investment,” and these are the categories that immediately come to mind. Other possibilities are considered, too, as people look to diversify, to build and safeguard wealth. These days, with headlines about record prices for all forms of artwork, from Old Master paintings to an NFT – or non-fungible token, the digital world’s answer to a provenance on paper – of a Banksy creation (it proved to be a $366,000 hoax), the idea of art as an investment keeps coming up.… Read More

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