“I was really anti-American at the time,” Evans told an interviewer in 1971, reflecting on his Depression-era photographs of the 1930s. “America was big business and I wanted to escape. It nauseated me.”
Averse to sentimentality, Evans located the texture and spirit of America’s national character not in its folk art or handicrafts, but in a new kind of visual language aligned with American consumerist culture. “When I started working on Evans, I realized I had to rethink what the vernacular in America was,” says Chéroux. “Here, it was factory-made, or made by industry.” It’s what the historian Miles Orvell has aptly described as the “anti-world of folk commerce—country stores stocked with general goods, pawnshops, roadside tire stores, street vendors.”
For Evans, the American vernacular also included junk, even garbage—rusty car carcasses littering the American countryside, second-hand shops full of other people’s castoffs, cans full of trash. As signs of the excessive consumption of a manufacturing-driven society fixated on the new, these images spoke to American prosperity as well as its decline.
“He knew there was a dark side to modernism,” says Chéroux, “that you couldn’t have progress without regress, that if you increase the speed there’s a greater chance for an accident, and if you increase consumerism there is more trash.”