Walker Evans, Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer’s Wife (Allie Mae Burroughs), 1936

Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer’s Wife (Allie Mae Burroughs)
Gelatin Silver Print
Purchased with funding from the State of New York. Percent for Art Program, 2003
NVC, Fl. 7.

American photographer and photojournalist, Walker Evans, is most celebrated for his black-and-white photography in the documentary tradition, detailing the effects of the Great Depression. After accepting a position as an ‘information specialist’ working for the Farm Security Administration within the Department of Agriculture, Evans set out to record the depictions of the rural communities in the South. Evans strayed from his proposed assignment of promoting the federal government’s assistance to farmers affected by the Depression, instead, choosing to capture the essence of everyday American life, while focusing on realism and the ‘poetic resonance of ordinary subjects.’

In August 1936, while spending several weeks living with Floyd and Allie Mae Burroughs, Walker shot up-close images of Allie Mae against their cabin. No detail goes unnoticed in this captivating portrait. The sharpness of her gaze immediately catches your attention. She appears resigned in the face of her reality, one where she and her husband owned nothing, not even their farm tools, which they leased from their landlord. A weathered face for a 27-year-old, she stares into the lens with a slight furrow in her brow and a look of determination. Her thin lips are slightly pursed and her hair parted to the side, with strands coming undone, perhaps from the hard labor of cotton picking. Though she is without a smile, she has not been defeated.