Hale County, Alabama, 1936

Walker Evans began work on a project documenting the Great Depression on this date 76 years ago today. He was working for the Farm Security Administration in the photographic section (he was granted a leave of absence to work on a summer assignment for Fortune magazine, on the condition that the pictures he made would be considered government property). Writer James Agee accompanied Evans toHale County,Alabama, to document the effects of the Depression on tenant farmers. For two months that summer, they traveled among the poor white cotton farmers, getting to know three families in particular. They didn’t want the images to be used for political or artistic purposes, but rather as a “documentary style” record.

Fortune declined to publish the piece as it was submitted. Agee refused to make revisions, and eventually he and Evans published it as a full-length book in 1941. It didn’t sell well, and went out of print, but it was reissued in 1960, three years after Agee’s death. Evans’s photographs are now among the most famous images of that era.

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