Walker Evans - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips
  • In winter of 1938 Walker Evans began a series of photographs made in the New York City subways. Working with a small 35-millimeter Contax camera which could be easily concealed, and frequently in the company of fellow photographer Helen Levitt, Evans sought to push past the conventions of traditional portrait photography to capture what he called ‘true portraiture.’ This involved days spent on the trains, watching for passengers who interested him in some way, and surreptitiously capturing their images. For Evans, it was crucial that his subjects were unaware they were being photographed in order to capture them unguarded, without artifice or performance. The resulting images are remarkable for their intimacy and immediacy.


    This photograph was for years in the collection of Peter C. Bunnell, who wrote,


    “Walker Evans was a man of acute visual perception. He had a profound sense of American myth and a marvelous sensitivity to materials. He has become the progenitor of the contemporary approach to photographing that is most frequently referred to as documentary . . . His photographs strike us as more powerfully revealing of the time than those of many of his colleagues, and it is the static, frontal approach that Evans adopted that constitutes the manner of his realism.”


    The remarkable selection of photographs offered in this auction as lots 203 through 240 comes from the collection of Peter C. Bunnell (1937-2021), the pioneering curator, teacher, and photographic historian. All of the sale’s proceeds will be distributed to six institutions with whom Bunnell was associated — Rochester Institute of Technology, Ohio University, Yale University, The George Eastman Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and Princeton University Art Museum — to establish endowments to support the study of photographic history.


    Bunnell began his long career in photography as a student of Minor White’s at the Rochester Institute of Photography in the 1950s and was recruited by White to work on the seminal periodical of artistic photography, Aperture. He joined the staff of The Museum of Modern Art in 1966 as a collection cataloguer, becoming Associate Curator and then Curator of Photography. At MoMA he curated the noteworthy exhibitions Photography as Printmaking (1968), Photography into Sculpture (1970), and the first retrospective of the work of Clarence H. White (1971). In 1972, he was hired as the inaugural David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art at Princeton University. 


    Bunnell served as Director of the Princeton University Art Museum from 1973 to 1978, and as Acting Director from 1998 to 2000, while also being the Museum’s Curator of Photography throughout the entirety of his tenure. Bunnell built a broad-ranging collection of photographs at the Museum, the firsthand examination of which became a central element of the student experience in his classes and seminars. ‘These photographs are used,’ he said, ‘they don't just sit around in boxes.’ Bunnell published widely on many photographers and photographic subjects. He was the acknowledged authority on the work of both Minor White and Clarence H. White, and it was through him that the archives of these two major photographs now reside at Princeton. As a teacher and a mentor, Bunnell professionalized the study of photographic history, conferring a higher degree of rigor and status to the medium, and inspiring an entire generation of curators and photographers.


    Bunnell also built a personal collection of photography over the course of his long career that reflects his vast and deep understanding of photography. Begun in the 1950s, before photography galleries and dealers were commonplace, the collection incorporates some outstanding rarities by Ansel Adams, his teacher and mentor Minor White, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Harry Callahan, Frederick Sommer, his friend Jerry Uelsmann, and many other photographers who touched his life or his sensibility in some important way. It is a deeply personal collection put together with a sense of joy and curiosity that includes both icons and lesser-known gems spanning the history of photography.

    • Provenance

      Collection of Peter C. Bunnell, Princeton, New Jersey

    • Literature

      Keller, Walker Evans: The Getty Museum Collection (for stamp)
      Harper and Row, Walker Evans at Work, p. 155 (reproduced in a double-page spread from a maquette for a proposed book of subway portraits, circa 1959)

A Reverence for Beauty: The Peter C. Bunnell Collection, Part 2


Subway Portrait (man with glasses and mustache)

Gelatin silver print.
6 1/2 x 5 1/4 in. (16.5 x 13.3 cm)
'1681 York Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10028' credit stamp (Keller stamp I) on the reverse of the mount.

Full Cataloguing

$10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for $12,700

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023