Reading Group: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Reading Group: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

January 11, 5:00PM

“Who are you who will read these words and study these photographs, and through what cause, by what chance, and for what purpose, and by what right do you qualify to, and what will you do about it?”

—James Agee, 1941


In conjunction with the current exhibition, Famous Men, Gallery 44  is pleased to host a collective reading and discussion group focused on James Agee and Walker Evans’s 1941 photo book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Evans’s photographs of 1930s tenant farmers in Hale County, Alabama, are some of the most iconic American portraits of the twentieth century, and have molded both the practice of photojournalism and the discourse on the representation of poverty. The photographs, however, were never intended as stand-alone representations; they were part of a book project comprising forty uncaptioned images by Evans and five hundred pages of prose by James Agee. This reading and looking session takes the book as its object of inquiry and poses questions about access and understanding, performativity within graphic representation, and how past contexts can be brought to bear on our present political climate.

At the session, we will take turns to read aloud and pose questions to each other and to the text. The images will be passed around, the document re-shuffled. No prior knowledge of the history of the book is required and we invite anyone with an interest in portraiture, documentary, and the project of democracy in the United States to attend. The session, which will last approximately two hours, will be intimate and convivial.

The Let Us Now Praise Famous Men research and reading group was initiated in 2018 by art historian Freya Field-Donovan and curator Alexandra Symons Sutcliffe, with the valuable support of London gallery Jupiter Woods. This session will be co-lead by Field-Donovan and Symons Sutcliffe.

Email if you would like to participate. Space is limited. 


Freya Field-Donovan is a PhD candidate in the History of Art department at University College London. Her PhD is titled A Strange American Funeral and focuses on dance and technological reproduction in 1930s America. 

Alexandra Symons Sutcliffe is a writer and curator based between London and Berlin, her work is focused on performance, documentary and artist moving image. She has curated exhibitions and programmes at PS120 (Berlin), ESSEX STREET GALLERY (New York), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), The Kitchen (New York), Auto Italia (London), Jupiter Woods (London), Arcadia_Missa (London) and ma ma (Toronto). She is currently a Phd candidate at Birkbeck University, working on British portrait photography of the 1970s and 1980s. 

Freya and Alexandra are long time formal and informal collaborators. They began their work together in 2014 by hosting the reading group Fidelity in Alexandra’s bedroom. In collaboration with the gallery Jupiter Woods, they have been running the Let Us Now Praise Famous Men reading and research group since 2017.