Museum exhibitions where photos tell the story, starting with Walker Evans at SFMOMA


“Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long,” photographer Walker Evans once wrote. Portraits and their ability to tell family stories provide the springboard for four museum exhibits in the West. Some look to the future, some reflect on the past. But all are worthy of a stare.

“Allie Mae Burroughs, Wife of a Cotton Sharecropper,” by Walker Evans was shot in 1936 in Hale County, Ala.
(Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)


Walker Evans gives us plenty to stare at in his portraits of rural families in the South taken in the 1930s. The photos are part of a major retrospective of his work from the 1920s to the 1970s on now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In the 300-plus prints, you see a mix of day-to-day life and portraits of individuals who agreed to share their story. The show includes paintings he did and memorabilia from his home. But it’s the Depression-era photos, such as that of Allie Mae Burroughs, married to a cotton sharecropper, that hit hardest.

Info, cost: Through Feb. 4; $25 per person. SFMOMA, 151 3rd St., San Francisco; (415) 357-4000,

"Kuwait Stock Exchange I, 2007" by Andreas Gursky.
(Andreas Gursky / 2017 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy Sprüth Magers)

SITE Santa Fe

“Future Shock” sounds like a nod to the 1970 Alvin Toffler book, yet it’s anything but old school. The show features 10 artists from around the world to create a mass portrait of our globalized world. Andreas Gursky’s crowded photos of the Kuwait Stock Exchange and Chicago Mercantile stock exchanges show the financial side; Rafael Lozano-Hemmer with Krzysztof Wodiczko create a room with surveillance cameras and facial-recognition technology that tracks our movements.

Info, cost: Through May 1; $10 admission (free on Fridays). SITE Santa Fe, 1606 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, N.M.; (505) 989-1199,

"Untitled (Portrait of Six Women)" was shot by Hebard Studio in Lincoln, Neb., around 1910.
“Untitled (Portrait of Six Women)” was shot by Hebard Studio in Lincoln, Neb., around 1910.
(Portland Art Museum)

Portland Art Museum

The Portland, Ore. exhibit, “Representing: Vernacular Photographs of, by and for African Americans,” brings together portraits from a family album, snapshots and Polaroids from the late 1800s through the 1990s. “Throughout the history of photography, the representation of African Americans has been problematic and, until recently, understudied,” the museum’s website says of the show, which provides a counterpoint to racial stereotypes of the times. The photo album of a Tuskegee Airman and his wife, the first black woman to be admitted to the Oregon state bar, joins other images to demonstrate what family life for blacks in Portland looked like in the last two centuries.

Info, cost: Through Dec. 3; $19.99 admission. Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., Portland; (503) 226-2811,

A portrait in “Lost Childhoods” about foster children at Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History.
(Ray Bussolari / Courtesy of the Foster Youth Museum.)

Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

Prepare to have your heart touched. “Lost Childhoods: Voices of Santa Cruz County Foster Youth and the Foster Youth Museum" showcases the loss and lives that the state’s 60,000 foster kids face as they battle homelessness. Portraits by Ray Bussolari show some with all of their belongings, seemingly packed up and ready to go. The show includes installations created by foster kids who were paired with artists. Since the exhibit opened in July, they’ve told their story to lawmakers and others. Visitors have acted too by making donations to local foster youth programs.

Info, cost: Through Dec. 31; $10 admission. Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History at the McPherson Center, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz; (831) 429-1964,