When Michael Lesy met Walker Evans
in 1973, Evans was old and frail,
with just two years left to live. He was also still urgently and obsessively
photographing. Evans had become enthralled with the Polaroid SX-70's colorful instant images, and he
used it to take his last photographs-portraits of people, in extreme close up, and portraits of objects.
''Wonder and scrutiny, suffused with desire and dread, produced the portraits he made in his last
'' Lesy notes. ''Outside the rooms he inhabited, the world was scattered with objects on their way
to oblivion. He photographed them in their passage.''
Brief as their friendship was, it was intense and rewarding. Aesthetic visionaries, Evans and Lesy
shared a radical belief that photographs were not flat and static documents—that ''the plain truth of the
images . . . wasn't as plain as it seemed,
'' Lesy explains.
In this unconventional, lyrical biography, Lesy traces Evans's intimate, idiosyncratic relationships
with men and women-the circle of friends who made Walker Evans who he was. Evans's photographs
of James Agee, Berenice Abbott, Lady Caroline Blackwood, and Ben Shahn, among others, accompany
Lesy's telling of Evans's life stories.
''Good clothes and good conversation, wit and erudition, originality and inventiveness, the charms of
smart and pretty women-Walker took pleasure in being alive,
'' Lesy writes. ''He photographed objects
as if they were people and people as if they were souls. All the while, he never forgot Blind Joe Death.
The annihilations of the First War, the extinctions of the epidemic that followed it, the pyres and the
pits—these he never forgot. The still silence of his images was, to the very last, transcendental, and
always he remembered the skull beneath the skin.
Palmist Building Window, Alabama, October 1973 © Walker Evans
Walker Evans Photographing Letterforms on Street, October 1, 1974 © D. Kent (American)
Street Lettering, December 15, 1973 © Walker Evans
Detail of Street Lettering: “KIN”, October 1, 1974 © Walker Evans
Truck Grill, Connecticut, 1973-74 © Walker Evans
Graveyard with Floral Arrangements, October 1973 © Walker Evans
MICHAEL LESY, PhD, is one of America's leading photographic scholars. His numerous
books include Wisconsin Death Trip, Snapshots 1971-1977, Murder City, Long Time Coming:
A Photographic Portrait of America, 1935-1943, and Looking Backward. In 2007, the
United States Artists Foundation named Professor Lesy its first Simon Fellow, and in 2013
he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Photography Studies. He lives in Amherst,
Massachusetts, and is professor emeritus of literary journalism at Hampshire College.
Nancy Shaver, December 11, 1973 (detail) © Walker Evans
Caroline Lowell, England, December 7, 1973 (detail) © Walker Evans
Ricki Hudeas, Old Lyme, Connecticut, August 20, 1974 (detail). © Walker Evans
Ricki Hudeas’s Hand Holding Cigarette, Old Lyme, Connecticut, August 24, 1974 (detail). © Walker Evans
Misty Cemetery View, 1973-74 © Walker Evans
Images from Walker Evans: Last Photographs & Life Stories by Michael Lesy, published by Blast Books, New York. Publication date: October 28, 2022
All images are from the Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art