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Evans, Walker
Collection of 46 Photographs taken and printed in Havana, Cuba in 1933, by Walker Evans and given by Evans to Ernest Hemingway, when the two met and befriended each other in Havana, 1933

46 Vintage prints by Walker Evans. These images were printed by Evans in Cuba in 1933.

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The 46 photographs in this collection were taken and printed in Cuba by Walker Evans in 1933 and then given by Evans to Ernest Hemingway to take back to America, as a precautionary measure, on the Anita, a rented fishing boat. The collection of vintage prints, offered here, is the product of the chance meeting of Evans and Hemingway, two of America's foremost proponents of modernism in Havana in 1933. The present photographs, printed in Cuba by Evans in 1933, are among the earliest prints of these iconic images, based on comparison with later printings. The collection includes variants of known images as well as rare images by Evans. "Hemingway went to Spain to learn to write; for Evans it was on the streets of Havana that his style and subject meshed and he found his own way as a photographer. Havana was Spain for Evans. As we shall see it was also his Paris."1

 

The Cuban photographs represent an important phase in the artistic development and maturation of Walker Evans as an artist. The photographs show the influence of the French photographer Eugene Atget, who had helped to shape his vision. Evans was quite familiar with the 1930 publication Atget: Photographie de Paris, which he reviewed for the  journal Hound & Horn in the fall of 1931. For Evans, Atget was a kind of naive artist who, "worked right through a period of utter decadence in photography."2 Evans wrote that Atget's photographs offered "a lyrical understanding of the street, trained observation to it, special feeling for patina, eye for revealing detail."3 These words aptly describe the photographs Evans would take two years later in the streets of Havana.

 

The characteristic emptiness of Atget's photographs permeates much of Evans's Havana work, as does the earlier photographer's antiquarian and documentary sense. The series that made up Atget's syudy of Old Paris - for example, "Environs de Paris," "Topographie du Vieux Paris," "Paris pittoresque" - as well as his pictures of modern urban life, including the shopfronts, window displays, and signage of "Metiers, boutiques et etalages de Paris" and "Enseignes et vielles boutiques de Paris" - seem to have served as an inspiration for many of Evans's Cuban subjects: the urban streetscape, the sidewalk displays of small tradesmen, the signs of urban storefronts, the abundant street offerings of fresh produce, the decorative balconies on old houses, the many studies of archaic, horse-drawn wagons and carriages, the portraits of women who appear to be prostitutes, and the theater of urban street life.

 

The photographs, taken in Havana in 1933, would further Evans's interest in sequence and series, and the vernacular, which he put into practice during his brief stay in Cuba, proved to be excellent preparation for his later, large assignments, including those from the federal government, and the photographs of Southern tenant farmers during the Depression. A small group of these were published in 1936 in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, his celebrated collaboration with the writer James Agee. These photographs formed the body of work and the images for which Evans is best known today. These examples of Evans's mature style - the style that fostered the American Documentary movement - were, in fact, made possible by the photographer's experiences on the streets of Havana.

 

In 1933 Walker Evans was asked by the publisher J. B. Lippincott to produce photographs for Carleton Beals' controversial book, The Crime of Cuba,  an expose of the murderous and corrupt regime of President Gerardo Machado (in office from 1925-1933). Machado was sustained in power by powerful American business and banking interests. Beals had spent six weeks in Cuba, from September-October 1932, to research the political scene. The increasingly brutal Machado regime was becoming headline news in American newspapers. The brutality of the regime was reaching a climax in a sequence of bloody political editors opposed to his corruption and the increasing violence, student activists (Machado had shut down the University of Havana in 1930), and members of a small but growing Communist Party - were being routinely imprisoned or murdered in clandestine raids. When Evans arrived in Havana in 1933 the country was on the brink of upheaval.

 

Evans was surely aware of the worsening Cuban situation when he was first approached about the Beals assignment. In later years, Evans would claim that he had not read the Beals book before his Cuba trip. That was essentially true - Beals had not completed the manuscript by the time that Evans left for Cuba in mid-May. Evans took with him two cameras, a medium format 2 1/2 x 4 1/4 camera and a 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 view camera with tripod. For a photographer, who was barely making a living at the time, the Cuban assignment was a significant opportunity.

 

Evans arrived in Havana in the middle of May 1933. In an undated diary entry written shortly after his arrival, Evans wrote that: "The political situation was critical at the moment." He also noted that new cities always "excited" him. "When you are still bewildered," he wrote, "you notice more things, as in a drunk. I was drunk with a new city for days." The photographs Evans took, some 400 in total during the month he was there, seem to indicate the level of his excitement. He must have been on the streets daily. He arrived early enough in the month to photograph the festivities of Cuban Independence Day, May 20, celebrating Cuba's liberation from Spain.

 

Havana, Evans claimed, was still "a frontier town" a curious statement for a city which had undergone an ambitious building program under Machado and his Minister of Public Works, Carlos Miguel Cespedes, so perhaps he meant it remained a "frontier town" in spirit. Havana boasted a new Capitol building patterned after the U.S. Capitol, a new Central Highway, and an ambitious program for widening the streets.  Havana was also a city of grand neo-baroque theaters and concert halls. It had since the nineteenth century, supported a famed opera house, which had introduced the works of Verdi to the western hemisphere. In the 1930s, the city had a lively cultural life and numerous publications, including weekly reviews and vanguard literary magazines. Havana also had a reputation for bohemianism and dissipation, with numerous brothels and rampant gambling houses. Machado himself was reputedly one of the secret owners of the Molina Rejo, the second of the two disreputable theaters that Evans noted in his diary. Machado, despite this fact, nonetheless, had begun a plan to make Havana the "Athens" of the  Caribbean. Machado was officially a Liberal, but he had become an admirer of Mussolini and, following in his role model's footsteps, was efficiently eliminating labor leaders, anarchists and communists, and even troublesome elements of the Cuban middle class.

 

Beals had given Evans letters of introduction to newsmen he knew in Havana: James Phillips of the Times, Haas of the United Press, Jose Antonio Fernandez de Castro of the influential Cuban paper Diario de la Marina, and his brother Jorge. They were all familiar with the Cuban scene and were very helpful to Evans. Evans noted in his diary, that Havana was a city crowded with men in uniform, a number of them armed blacks (who may have been part of Machado's militia, given the dirty work of political assassinations) as well as soldiers in tan uniforms with "heavy, shouldered guns." All of them, he noted, served one purpose, "to keep their master gangster in power - the only way." Evans was alert to the potential violence behind the cosmopolitan facade of Havana. But the large military presence does not figure prominently in the more than four hundred photographs he took in Cuba. Evans made the mistake of taking a bus on his first attempt to meet Jose Antonio Fernandez de Castro. His diary notes the somewhat comic events: The bus was "full of spys, [sic] counterspies, plainclothesmen, secret agents and ordinary thieves." Evans took the precaution of leaving half his money in his hotel safe and hid the rest in a money belt, along with the "compromising (I hope) letters of introduction to well-known oppositionists." But he had to "undress," more or less to pay the fare. Despite all his precautions, when he got off the bus, he discovered that his money had been stolen. "No American takes a bus in Havana," Evans rote. "They would suspect something a follow me. And of course everyone who is seen near Fernandez de Castro's person is immediately filed in some official card index somewhere, then shadowed."4

 

Fernandez de Castro was not at home and Evans spent the evening investigating "some of the charming and many nice places of the city. There was still the other half of my money in the hotel safe and the other half of the world in the back of my mind." But as he made his way to the outskirts and wandered some of the drearier streets, he began to think of it as half savage and unsafe" "There is history, of course, but history with pirates, the extreme heightened actions of a decayed race, recurrent instability." Badly paved streets led to streets with no pavement at all, although they were lined with "palaces."

 

Evans quickly learned that Havana was also a city of secret errands and clandestine operations. A lesson he learned the next day at his meeting with Fernandez de Castro. Evans gives an account of their meeting in his diary: "He said good! We will go to lunch and we will talk. (I could see that) He wore his mind on his sleeve of white linen, white one day longer than possible. There was no reserve because the letter was from Beals ... But a good man in one of the various shades of meaning I give to the word ... Some underfed person with us who seemed to know the driver. He sat in front and was not introduced, leaving me to think bodyguard. It got easier to think anything during that ride. We stopped somewhere and Fernandez de Castro got out but not for long and I don't know what he did. The bodyguard stayed in the car. I knew I would learn reasons for all these things ... Motivation, I thought in the car, is tiresome and inevitable..." 5

 

Evans's diary ends at this point.

 

Evans and Ernest Hemingway met in Havana in the late spring, 1933 purely by coincidence.6 Hemingway had arrived there in early April on a fishing expedition on the Anita, a thirty-foot cruiser rented from one of his friends in Key West. It was the only meeting between Evans and Hemingway, but it would prove significant for each of them and the two men would remember the encounter well in later years. Evans, who may have been introduced by one of Beals's newspaper connections in Havana, considered himself lucky: "I had a wonderful time with Hemingway. Drinking everynight. He was at loose ends ... and he needed a drinking companion, and I filled that role for two weeks." They probably drank at the famed Floridita, Hemingway's usual Havana hangout, or at the Pearl of San Francisco Cafe in the seaport of Old Havana. One or the other, or both, served as the model for the bar in the opening of Hemingway's novel, To Have and Have Not. When Evans ran out of money, Hemingway loaned him enough to stay on for another week.7 Accompanying documentation, included with the collection, shows that Hemingway loaned Evans at least $ 25.00.

 

"It seems probable that Hemingway and his writing exerted an influence on Evans's work at the time. Already acclaimed for his terse and unembellished style, in 1933 Hemingway was living in Key West and doing most of his writing in Havana. He would publish his third collection of short fiction, Winner Take Nothing, that year  and he was collecting Cuban material for the Harry Morgan stories that would finally appear together in 1937 as To Have and have Not.8

 

Evans would later claim that he disliked taking photographs of famous people: "Photographically speaking the face of a celebrity is a cliche." He made a point of not photographing the highly famous Hemingway: "Much to Hemingway's delight I might add, I think he felt I wanted to be coaxed," Evans commented.9 But Evans managed to commemorate their meeting in a sly way with two notable photographs of Havana movie theaters which happened to be showing Adios a las Armas, the film version of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.  When precisely he met Hemingway, is not clean, but the probability is that it was within the first week of his arrival, since the theaters, one of them the gaudy Apollo, with gilded columns, were still advertising Adios a las Armas for Saturday May 27, and the other, for Sunday.

 

In a later interview on the subject of Hemingway, Evans was quite loquacious: "I had a very instinctive bond between him and me, and he knew it. But I was wary of him. He was very secretive - that's not the word - he was a very hard man to come close to. But in one way I did. I really thought he was a great artist at that time and he loved that recognition. He could see that I knew what he was about. I could see him in his work. And he knew it right away. Very intelligent, very sensitive man. But I decided instinctively to keep my distance, not to carry on a friendship with him." 10 In 1971 he still mused on the influence of his friend: "Photography is reporting I am interested in reporting ... Hemingway was a hell of a good reporter, did it to begin with, and was always grounded in that." 11 "I met Hemingway ... and became friends with him, and was interested in and close to his experiences. And I though he was a sensitive and superior man ... he knew exactly who I was and what I was doing."12 The time Evans spent with Hemingway, in the early days of Evans' career when he was worried that he was "doing some things that I thought were too plain to be works of art. I began to wonder. I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I wondered if I really was an artist." His encounters with Hemingway that month in May, already famous for his stripped down, minimal style, must have been encouraging for Evans.

 

Hemingway remembered the photographer as a "nice kid" who took "beautiful" pictures. (Evans a youthful twenty-nine, was only three years younger than Hemingway at the time.) Their relationship was friendly enough that Hemingway told Evans about his planned trip to Spain in August and perhaps about his intended trip to Africa, his first, later in 1933. Hemingway, recalled a bit of camaraderie in a cause: "We were both working against Macahado at the time," he remembered in what was certainly something of an exaggeration. They were both likely sympathetic to the rebels who were opposing Machado and his henchmen, but there is no evidence that either Hemingway or Evans were actively engaged in toppling the regime, other than in an artistic way.

 

Havana was a dangerous place in 1933. Among the more than four hundred photographs Evans took were, a series of atrocity images he likely "appropriated" from local newspaper sources. Evans photographed the anonymous press photographs from newspaper archives and used these anonymous images in his own name, a quasi-postmodernist act of appropriation. They provided the strongest evidence of the brutalities of the Machado regime: mutilated corpses, policemen routing protestors, students behind bars, police officials consulting one another. Among his illustrations for The Crime of Cuba, he included one of the bloodied corpse of the teen-age Gonzalez Rubeiro and another, captioned "Document of the Terror," depicting a young black man laid out with a coiled rope and a knife in a deadly still life. The most gruesome of these "appropriations", was the image of the mutilated body of Manuel Cepero, a stool pigeon killed in a reprisal. The collection includes eleven of these appropriations, including prints of the three mentioned above.

 

Hemingway, in 1934, used the anti-Machado revolution as the political backdrop for two short stories, "One Trip Across," and "The Tradesman's Return." These two stories were eventually melded into To Have and Have Not,  his 1937 novel of political corruption and terrorism in Cuba. He almost certainly used the Cepero incident in a particularly grim exchange at the outset of the novel. It is probable that the images of the violence "appropriated" by Evans - and given to Hemingway by the photographer - had some influence upon Hemingway as he wrote scenes in the novel.

 

It is clear that Evans processed and printed some of his Cuban film in Havana. There is an address for "Am. Photo Studios" on Calle Zeena 43 in his diary.13 The collection of prints offered here were printed by Evans in Havana in 1933, likely, in less than ideal circumstances. (One of the prints has Evans's thumbprints in the emulsion). But more important there is a clue that he was concerned that his pictures might be a source of danger, or might be confiscated by Machado operatives if they fell into the wrong hands. Hemingway clearly remembered that as a precaution Evans had given him a set of prints to take back to the United States on his boat the Anita. 14

 

These are the prints.

 

Accompanying the collection, is a penciled note written by Evans to Hemingway, inscribed on a printed sheet of the Commercial Cable Co. of Cuba, it reads:

 

"Hemingway:

 

I have some pictures tonight, and will have more tomorrow. Also I will change my mind and take a loan of ten or fifteen dollars from you if you still feel like that. I want to go to the sugar mills at Atares tomorrow so will try to see you later tonight. My telephone is F6631; will you call me if you come in. W. Evans"

 

It is accompanied by the printed envelope the note was enclosed in, from the Ambos Mundos Hotel, Hemingway's hotel of choice while in Cuba, with "Mr. Hemingway" in Evans's hand on the front, and on the back: l;oaned $ 25.00," in Hemingway's.

 

There is little in the photographs Evans took in Cuba, however, that hints of any political fears. More hints can be found in his Cuban diary notes, or the otherwise unsubstantiated claims that would appear on the dust jacket of The Crime of Cuba when it was published on August 17, where it was stated that Evans "was stopped and searched by soldiers everywhere and once stoned by 'toughs'," which might or might not have been true.15

 

We believe that the prints offered here are among the earliest of the Cuban images that Evans printed. For instance, one of the photographs, Patrol, bears what appear to be scratches on the print, a small black splotch, on the cobblestones just below the armed soldier, however, these scratches are, in fact, on the negative. Later printings of this image by Evans, were shaded and burned in the darkroom to obscure these defects, and is visible on later prints.

 

Evans's Cuban photographs are a visual dictionary of Havana in the year 1933: its people, its ethnic diversity, its shops, profession, the look and feel of its street and urban life. He enlarged on the series of fruit stands he had begun earlier in New York, with a sequence of photographs of stalls and peddler's carts. The lives of the poor are documented in a series of shots at siesta time, people sleeping on park benches, and in shaded doorways. The poor are shown in breadlines and begging in the street. Evans was clearly absorbed by the ethnic diversity of the country - the Spanish, blacks and mixed race people - all except the Chinese population. Evans's interest in street signs was continued in a series of images documenting the signage of Havana, lottery ticket vendors, newsstands, and store fronts. The women of Cuba are also found in a series of images depicting women on the street, in crowds, mothers with their children, and prostitutes. Outside the city be took photographs of the crowded settlements of thatched, stick and palm-leaf huts inhabited by the very poor. Following, there is a the sequence of the appropriated "photographs documenting the ongoing political violence.

 

Evans sent sixty-four prints, in all, to Lippincott for inclusion in The Crime of Cuba, though only thirty-one were used in the final publication. Twelve of the photographs in this collection are represented in the book (eleven different images with one duplicate).

 

In the course of compiling the above description, I have drawn heavily upon chapter 8, Cuba Libre (pp. 173-192) in James R. Mellow's biography Walker Evans, which provides a most detailed account of Evans's time in Cuba.

 

1. Keller, Judith, Walker Evans The Getty Museum Collection (Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995) p. 63

 

2. "The Reappearance of Photography," Hound & Horn, October-December 1931, 126

 

3. ibid.

 

4. Mellow, James R., Walker Evans, p. 178. Walker Evans's diary is in the Walker Evans archive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

5. Mellow, James R., Walker Evans p. 179

 

6. One source states that Hemingway had dinner May 31 with Walker Evans, Fernandez de Castro, probably Antonio Gattorno, (who Evans photographed) and others. Fernandez de Castro provided Evans with the introduction to Hemingway. Chamberlin, Brewster, The Hemingway Log A Chronology of His Life and Times (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2015) p. 126, see Sean Poole Gattorno: A Cuban Painter for the World, noted that the painter met Hemingway at a party given for Evans; see Fabiola Santiago, "A Master Unveiled," Miami Herald, February 6, 2005.

 

7. Mellow, James R., Walker Evans, pp., 179-180

 

8. Keller, Judith, Walker Evans The Getty Museum Collection (Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), p. 62

 

9. Mellow, James R., Walker Evans, p. 180

 

10. Mellow, James R., Walker Evans, p. 180

 

11. "Walker Evans" a 1971 interview published in Paul Cummings, Artists in their Own Words: Conversations with Twelve American Artists (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979) 99

 

12. "A Visit with Walker Evans" in Images of the South: Visits with Eudora Welty and Walker Evans, ed. Bill Ferris and Carol Lynn Yellinx, Southern Folklore Reports (Memphis Center for Southern Folklore, 1977)

 

13. Mellow, James R., Walker Evans, p. 183

 

14. Mellow, James R., Walker Evans, p. 183. Hemingway rented the Anita from his friend Joe Russell, owner of Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West.

 

15. Mellow, James R., Walker Evans, p. 184