Between 1938 and 1941 Walker Evans photographed passengers in the New York City Subway with a camera cleverly hidden inside his coat. With the focus and exposure of his 35mm Contax predetermined, Evans was completely free to attend to the transient expressions and conduct of his fellow passengers. When the right moment arrived, Evans quickly squeezed the cable release he had snaked from the camera down his sleeve to his hand. Evans published 89 photographs from the series in Many Are Called, his 1966 monograph on passengers in the subway, introduced by his friend James Agee.
"These anonymous people who come and go in the cities and who move on the land; it is on what they look like now; what is in their faces and in the windows and the streets beside and around them, what they are wearing and what they are riding in, and how they are gesturing that we need to concentrate, consciously, with the camera." Evans wrote.In order to create his clandestine photographs, he orchestrated a way of taking photographs "undercover." He painted the shiny chrome of his camera black and hid it under his coat so that the camera lens surreptitiously peeked out between two buttons. Despite the public setting of the subway, Evans managed to capture people lost in their own thoughts and moods, displaying a range of human emotions. With these black-and-white photographs, Evans managed to pull off a complicated feat: creating truly unposed portraits.
(© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, via MoMA)