In the middle of the Great Depression, "Fortune" magazine commissioned Walker Evans and staff writer James Agee to produce a feature on the plight of tenant farmers in the American South. The two New Yorkers spent several weeks documenting the harsh existence of three families who grew cotton on a dry hillside seventeen miles north of Greensboro, Alabama. The unpublished article eventually became one of the era's literary masterpieces, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" (1941). A journey to the limits of direct observation, the book presents in words and pictures "a portion of unimagined [human] existence," as Agee wrote in the preface.
This portrait of father and daughter, barefoot and at ease, is a superb example of the dignity and austere beauty Evans discovered in the lives of ordinary citizens during his half-century photographic career. With seeming transparency and characteristic graphic equipoise, Evans composed an image that is as much about family traditions as it is about broader agrarian issues. Strong and long-limbed like her father, Lucille Burroughs at age ten could pick 150 pounds of cotton a day. She also inherited a less useful legacy: her parents' lifelong debt to a landlord who owned their cabin, farm, tools, mules, and the product of all their labor.