James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941)
Reprinted in 2001 by Mariner Books.
Journalist-philosopher James Agee and photographer Walker Evans traveled to rural Alabama in 1936 on assignment from Fortune to look at the lives of poor tenant farmers there. The work they produced, which eventually became Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, is grand in its simplicity.
But the crystal-clear simplicity here is complex: Agee's writing describes the Gudger, Woods and Ricketts families without casting any judgment on them, though he often seems uncomfortable with his position as the big-city writer casting an objective eye about the place. For the journalism student, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is a necessary primer for thinking about the complex relationship between a reporter and his or her subjects.
Evans's photos are stark but, to the modern eye used to the airbrushing and touchups so often seen in modern photography, beautiful.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men put a face on poverty. It gave a soul to the New Deal. Agee and Evans portrayed their subjects as heroes without pomp or exaggeration. It is a work that truly captures the essence of the time in which it emerged.
Walker Evans's photos
PBS Website about Agee