As what is recognised as one of Evans' most significant images, Allie Mae Burroughs, transcends beyond the ordinary portrait, becoming a visual symbol for this period in American history. An icon of the Great Depression, Evans' portrait of the sharecropper, Flyod Burroughs' wife is not in the least nostalgic (a word hated by Evans), but presents her as a woman confident before the camera, with a purposeful gaze and strong sense of self. Evans' work has been described as specific while at the same time evocative of larger experiences of time and place. His depiction of Allie Mae Burroughs was included in both his 1938 one-man-show at The Museum of Modern Art and in his collaboration with James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
During his work for the Resettlement and Farm Security Administrations in the mid 1930s, it was common practice for Evans to make several negatives of one subject. He would hand one over to Roy Stryker, the project's director, which eventually became part of the Library of Congress, and retain the others for his own use. As is noted in The Hungry Eye, "It happens all too often that the essence of Evans' work is assumed to be limited to the years of his employment by the Farm Security Administration. This is true of his work if identified only as the documentary operation within which his government commission might have confined him. Evans, however, cautions us against this: 'Very often I am doing one thing when I'm thought to be doing something else.'...He contrived to keep his employers relatively happy and at the same time took advantage of the opportunity to perfect his photographic technique." (The Hungry Eye, p. 132.)
In the case of his portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs, Evans made four 8 x 10 inch negatives, each a slight variant of the other. The negative from which the print offered here was made was the one chosen by Evans to give to Stryker. Of the other three, Evans cropped one down and left the other two whole. (See: Walker Evans at Work, p. 127.) The block letter credit stamp on the verso of the print was most likely done by Evans and the relatively short time Evans would have had access to the negative before turning it over to Stryker suggests that this print was produced not long after the portrait was made.
In his essay in American Photographs, the catalogue which accompanied Evans' 1938 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Kirstein observed, "There has been no need for Evans to dramatize his material with photographic tricks, because the material is already, in itself, intensely dramatic...The faces, even those tired, vicious or content, are past reflecting accidental emotions. They are isolated and essentialized. The power of Evans' work lies in the fact that he so details the effect of circumstances on familiar specimens that the single face, the single house, the single street, strikes with the strength of overwhelming numbers, the terrible cumulative force of thousands of faces, houses and streets." (American Photographs, p. 197.)