Walker Evans’ Beauties of the Common Tool

Walker Evans, “Beauties of the Common Tool,” Fortune Magazine, July 1955, scan via fulltable

While a staff photographer at Fortune magazine, Walker Evans produced a photoessay titled, “Beauties of the Common Tool,” which ran in the July 1955 issue. Dr. Chris Mullen has scans of the five-page spread as published, on his Visual Telling of Stories website. [There is also a great deal more of Evans’ work at Fortune.]

Walker Evans, Bricklayer’s Pointing Trowel, by Marshaltown Trowel Co., $1.25, 1955, silver gelatin print, object number 84.XM.1056, image:getty.edu

It turns out to be tricky to find what passes for a complete set of Evans’ photos from this series. As the successor to Evans’ estate and holder of his archive, the Metropolitan Museum probably has all of them in its nearly 8,000-item collection. Just sort by date or era: 1900–present, and, uh…

Walker Evans, [Two-Blade Knife Seen At Forty-Five Degree Angle], silver gelatin print, 1955, Object number, 84.XM.956.1062, image: getty.edu
The Getty loaned eight prints from this Common Tool project to the Cooper Hewitt for an exhibition in 2015. It turns out their giant Walker Evans collecction has at least 22, though, images of a reamer, an awl, a bill hook, an auger, various pliers, and a couple of variations on a T-square and some wrenches. Posted here are two favorites (three, including the Swedish pliers): a trowel, which made the cut for the magazine, and a double-edged knife, which did not. What I love about the trowel is how, by shooting straight on, Evans completely flattens the depth of the trowel’s handle, which is, of course, _/ -shaped.

Where the Met’s search capability is nonexistent, the Getty’s is non-persistent, but at least esoteric. I searched the collection by object number: 84.XM.956 is the code for their 1,082-piece Walker Evans trove. The Common Tool images are near the bottom of the accession stack, at numbers 84.XM.956.1052 to 84.XM.956.1073. [thanks to @_installator_ on instagram for the ispo]

[After dinner which I should have been making, but ended up ordering in because of tool glamour shot obsession update: I still can’t find Walker Evans’ photo of an awl on the Met’s site, but even if I did, it’d only be like the 15th sweetest crisply shot photo of an awl in their collection. They have like 45 awls, and they’re almost all elegantly documented. Oh ok, wow they have six photos of the trowel. Make that six 8×10 negatives of the trowel. If you search for the accession number 1994.258, it brings up a more manageable stash of 846 Evans photos. 18 tool photos are among the newest. Just imagine the contact prints…]