Orlando Sentinel
April 11, 2004

Photos tell this story

Long-hidden prints reveal the friendship between Walker Evans and Ernest Hemingway.

By Coralie Carlson
The Associated Press

KEY WEST -- In the spring of 1933, Ernest Hemingway had escaped the Great Depression on a borrowed boat to Cuba, where he fished, drank and gathered material for his next novel, To Have and Have Not.

With him for three weeks in the bars and bistros was a young Walker Evans, who would soon become known as one of the great American photographers of the 20th century.

But for decades, the tale of their friendship and influence on each other's work remained hidden in a storage room of a Key West bar.

In boxes and crates, Benjamin "Dink" Bruce discovered 46 original photographs taken by Evans in Havana in 1933. Bruce just didn't know what they were.

Bruce, together with Key West's historical society, unraveled the mystery of the photographs and two Americans working together in the midst of a repressive Cuban leader, Geraldo Machado.

Their story and the photographs are now on display at Key West's Museum of Art & History at the Custom House through Dec. 15.

"It was only a short friendship, but if you look at Walker Evans' photographs and read Ernest Hemingway's writing, it's exactly the same style," said Claudia Pennington, executive director of the Key West Art & Historical Society.

Bruce, the son of Hemingway associate Toby Bruce, discovered the photographs in boxes of artifacts his family recovered from a storage room at Sloppy Joe's, a favorite Hemingway watering hole.

Hemingway moved his belongings to the bar when he left Key West in 1939 with his soon-to-be third wife, and his second wife told him to clear his things out of the house.

Among the items -- which included animal heads that Hemingway had hunted, fishing gear and handwritten letters -- Bruce took special note of the striking black-and-white photos of Cuba. They included images of people lining up for bread, bodies with slit throats and a marquee of a theater playing A Farewell to Arms, the film based on Hemingway's novel of the same name.

Pennington said the photos likely came into Hemingway's hands because Evans feared his negatives would be confiscated and destroyed by Machado operatives in Cuba, so he asked his friend to ferry the photos back to the United States.

When Evans returned to the United States with his negatives unscathed, Hemingway kept the prints. The two men never saw each other again, though each later referred to the time they were together in Cuba.

Evans, who later became famous for his photographs of the Great Depression in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, said that Hemingway caused him to look at photography with a new intensity and an eye of a journalist.