Brown Brothers Harriman Collection: Walker Evans Portfolio

The Brown Brothers Harriman Collection at the New-York Historical Society was amassed to support the publication of Partners in Banking published by Doubleday & Co. in celebration of the firm’s 150th anniversary in 1968.

Partners in Banking was designed as an image-heavy history of the firm, and the Collection is rich in visual materials. However, because much of the company’s evolution after 1945 did not provide extensive graphic material, the book’s author (and Director of the Historical Files at Brown Brothers Harriman) John A. Kouwenhoven planned to end the book with a commissioned photographic portfolio depicting the contemporary organization, its partners, and locations.

For this project he chose photographer Walker Evans, who was ending his career as Special Photographic Editor at Fortune Magazine. During his tenure there from 1945 to 1964, Evans had completed numerous self-assigned photographic studies of the contemporary business environment, its practitioners and tools.

He brought to these the same eye for detail and sociological import that had informed his best-known and most provocative images: those documenting rural poverty for the Resettlement (later, Farm Security) Administration during the Depression, and his photographs of Greensboro, Alabama, farming families originally published, with James Agee, as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941.

The Brown Brothers Harriman portfolio may be the last that Evans made as a corporate documenter, and only 56 of the close to 300 images he made for the project were published in Partners in Banking. In 1965 he was named Professor of Photography on the Faculty for Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art and Architecture. Before his death in 1975, Evans experimented with the new instant Polaroid SX-70 camera and lectured and published on his collections of vernacular images, including an extensive postcard collection.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art holds the Walker Evans Archive, which includes negatives and contacts of some of these images, and a small amount of related correspondence. It is the copyright owner of all images produced by Evans, including those in the Brown Brothers Harriman Collection.

The complete finding aid for the Brown Brothers Harriman Collection is now available online. Processing of the Collection was made possible through a grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission in 2009.

Creative: Tronvig Group