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7 / Domestic Life

Bud (William) Fields, Lily Rogers Fields, and Lilian Fields
Bud (William) Fields, Lily Rogers Fields, and Lilian Fields
Artist / Origin Walker Evans (American, 1903–1975)
Region: North America
Date 1935–36
Material Gelatin silver print
Location Prints and Photographs Division, The Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Credit © Metropolitan Museum of Art/Courtesy of the Library of Congress

expert perspective

Jeff L. RosenheimCurator of Photography, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Additional Resources

Agee, James, and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: The American Classic, in Words and Photographs, of Three Tenant Families in the Deep South. Boston: Mariner Books, 2001.

Brannan, Beverly, and Gilles Mora. FSA: The American Vision. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2006.

Cohen, Stu, et al. The Likes of Us: Photography and the Farm Security Administration. Boston: David R. Godine, 2008.

Department of Photographs. “Walker Evans (1903–1975).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/evan/hd_evan.htm (October 2004).

Hambourg, Maria Morris, Jeff L. Rosenheim, Douglas Eklund, and Mia Fineman. Walker Evans. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Mora, Gilles, and John T. Hill. Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2004.

Szarkowski, John, Lee Friedlander, Walker Evans, and William Klein. The Photographer’s Eye. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007.

Bud (William) Fields, Lily Rogers Fields, and Lilian Fields

» Walker Evans (American, 1903–1975)

Walker Evans’s photograph of Bud Fields and Lily Rogers Fields with their daughter captures the bleak living conditions of sharecroppers in the American South during the Depression era.

Lily, holding her sleeping child, sits on a simple white sheet covering a bed with a wrought-iron frame. Just inches away, the bare-chested Bud sits on a plain wooden chair. Both look directly at the camera. Neither wears shoes. Behind the pair, the door is open, revealing an older woman peeking in. The floor of the room is bare and the walls are made of undecorated wooden slats. A weathered trunk sits in the background to the right. The room is spare. Small details—the edge of a striped pillow on the bed and a sheet of paper with photos of children on the wall—lend the slightest personal touch to the space.

During the mid-1930s, Evans was one of a number of photographers hired by the Resettlement Administration (RA) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to document the impoverishment of people living in rural America. While the RA aimed to use photography as an instrument of social and political change, Evans had his own goal—to create “pure records” of American life. In the midst of his work for the government, Evans was offered an assignment working with James Agee, a writer for Fortune magazine. Evans was to provide images for a story about the plight of the white tenant farmer. This picture of the Fields in their home was one of many photographs Evans shot featuring three sharecropper families in Hale County, Alabama.

Neither Evans’s images nor Agee’s text was actually published in Fortune. In 1941, however, the two men published their work in a book entitled Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Although they started from the shared premise that their work should avoid exploitation or dramatization of its subjects, Agee’s highly subjective prose contrasted sharply with Evan’s pictures. Refusing to stage-manage his shots, Evans wanted his photographs to be impartial descriptions of subjects that spoke for themselves and on their own terms. At the same time, he recognized that his photography involved something more than replication. Rejecting the label “documentary” for his work, he insisted that art is not the equivalent of documentation, though it might adopt a “documentary style.”

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