Skip to Main Content
Harry Ransom Center homepage

Walker Evans and James Agee

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

November 2, 2004 – December 12, 2004

"Walker Evans and James Agee: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," a display of collaborative work by photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975) and writer James Agee (1909-1955) which depicts depression era life and shows the difference between prose and photographs as methods of description will be exhibited from Nov. 2 through Dec. 12 at The University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center.

In 1936, Evans and Agee set out on assignment for Fortune magazine to document the daily lives of tenant families in the Deep South. They spent three weeks in Hale County, Ala., living with and recording the activities of three sharecropper families.

They strove to produce a collaborative work aimed at confronting the Great Depression's social problems. Though never published by Fortune, the words and images Evans and Agee produced became the celebrated book "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" in 1941. Heralded at the time as intensely honest and moving, the book has become a classic American account of rural poverty during the Depression.

The exhibition takes a fresh perspective to the legendary historical body of work that changed the face of documentary reportage. It contains photographs by Evans and selections of Agee's text materials.

The pictures and manuscripts shown in the exhibition are part of a Hale County dossier once owned by Evans and are now preserved at the Harry Ransom Center in the photography and manuscripts collections.

Evans has been the subject of two recent exhibitions organized separately by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both shows surveyed Evans's photographs within the larger context of photographic history.

By contrast, "Walker Evans and James Agee: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" takes a new and in-depth look at a particular and seminal body of work, focusing on the collaborative power of Evans's photographs and Agee's writings.

For the 1960 republication of "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," Evans re-edited his picture section, doubling the number of plates from 31 to 62. Exploring the differences between the two editions, the exhibition sheds new light onto Evans's changing perception of his work through his own editorial and philosophical revision.

Curated by Ulrich Keller of Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibition (CATE), Los Angeles, "Walker Evans and James Agee: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," reasserts 60 years later the still-poignant truths of Evans and Agee's vision.

While respecting Evans's photographs and their original intended meanings, Keller expanded the initial picture selection slightly and made cautious alterations to the sequencing of the works.

Co-organized by the Ransom Center and CATE, the exhibition is being circulated throughout the country by CATE, a nonprofit organization specializing in traveling art exhibitions. Through the creation and circulation of diverse and innovative exhibitions for museums and art organizations worldwide, CATE fosters collaborations between public and private resources and expands public opportunities to view and experience significant works of art.

The exhibition travels to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art after its showing at the Ransom Center.