Only four photographers have more than one book listed in Andrew Roth's The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the 20th Century
. Walker Evans scores three times with his own American Photographs
, Many Are Called
, and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
, in which his photographs are partnered with the prose of James Agee
Right now, we have two of Evans's books in first edition.
Most of us know Let Us Now Praise Famous Men because of the success of the 1960 reprint, which capitalized on Agee's posthumous Pulitzer, won for A Death in the Family. The first printing of 1941 "sank into obscurity," writes Roth in his introduction to 101 Books. The stark photographs taken by Evans, paired with Agee's introspective and poetic prose, didn't find much of a readership; around 500 copies were sold. The remaining copies were quickly remaindered.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men began as an assignment for Henry Luce's Fortune magazine in 1936. The magazine decided not to run the finished article, and so Houghton Mifflin became the publisher of the expanded manuscript in 1941. American Photographs was published by the Museum of Modern Art in 1938 in conjunction with Evans's exhibition — the first one-man show of a photographer's work in MoMA's history.
This is what we used to look like:
This is what sandwiches used to cost:
Depressed enough? If not, check out the New York Times online for a quick fix. If you prefer your reading material in book form, give The Worst Hard Time a try. Things aren't rosy right now, but at least the Dust Bowl isn't one of our looming environmental disasters. We learned our lesson about crop rotation, irrigation, and sod-busting, right?
Should you happen to get your Wayback Machine working, set course for November 1929 and find a stockbroker. Buy General Electric. The stock will experience a four-for-one split in 1930.
Henry Luce supposedly said, "There are men who can write poetry, and there are men who can read balance sheets. The men who can read balance sheets cannot write."