Penny Picture Display, Savannah
"The only reason this photograph has any value is, an instinct is touched in it. “This is for me.” It’s like the meaning of a person. The singular importance of this spoke to me that way. It’s uproariously funny, and very touching and very sad and very human. Documentary, very real, very complex, all these people had posed in front of the local studio camera, and I bring MY camera, and they all pose again together for me. That’s a fabulous fact. I look at it and think, and think, and think about all those people." -
Walker Evans (Art in America, March/April, 1971)
Penny Picture Display, an icon of American 20th Century photography, is one of Evans’ most exhibited and published images. It has been included in his one-man-show in 1938 and in 1971 in the retrospective, both at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In 1935, Evans was hired by Roy Stryker to document the depression-era USA for the Resettlement Administration (transferred to the Farm Security Administration later), a governmental agency of the New Deal. Evans extensively travelled the USA revealing a nation in blooming impoverishment. After returning to Washington from one of his assignments in the Southern Atlantic states, he stopped in Savannah. Evans encountered a window display in the town’s photo studio. The “readymade” accidental photocollage is a very modern image. It questions the distinction between documentary and art photography. Throughout his career Evans understood the term "documentary" only as a makeshift metaphor for his very particular artistic photography. This approach was revolutionary back then and influenced later generations of photographers, such as Robert Frank and Harry Callahan, but also Pop Art painters and even photographers like Bernd and Hilla Becher or Thomas Ruff. The present print was made in the mid 1970s, originally coming from the collection of Harry Lunn, who worked with Evans from 1974 onwards.