Two Views of Walker Evans’s American Photographs

In 1938, 75 years ago this fall, MoMA installed its first one-person photography show, comprising 100 prints by Walker Evans, with the self-consciously ambiguous title American Photographs. (After all, what exactly makes a photograph American?) In the intervening years, this groundbreaking exhibition has endured thanks to the accompanying publication. Yet, despite having identical names, the original exhibition and book differed in meaningful ways—which have largely been overlooked due to the ephemeral nature of, and dearth of documentation about, the show. Through research for the current anniversary installation (and my dissertation, which happens to be on Walker Evans), we were able to gather information on and bring attention to some of those distinctions. (Special thanks to Ed Grazda, who donated scaled prints of all 100 works in the 1938 exhibition.)