[slidepress gallery=’lesleylouden_evelyn’]

Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls


Lesley Louden

Evelyn, Nothing Fancy

play this essay


For over a decade the regal life of an exceptional  U.S. mid-western woman and her plush apartment situated in a small town on the banks of Lake Erie has been documented and compiled into a series of photographs, “Evelyn, Nothing Fancy.” The photographs invite the viewer inside to experience Evelyn’s domain, a common place transformed into a personal work of art, filled with precious powder blue and pink possessions. Evelyn’s hand-sewn garments, made of fabrics from Harrods and Liberty of London, and specially designed accessories are just as lovely as each of her idiosyncratic arrangements. The culmination of each object transformed her home into a dollhouse of human proportion, providing a haven for her personal happiness.

“Love Makes the World Go Round,” reads one of Evelyn’s pillows in the blue den. Romantic touches and feminine symbols of love and partnership are sprinkled throughout the apartment. Has a loved one passed away, or does the representation of love surrounding Evelyn stand for a peaceful, light-hearted and happy existence? At Evelyn’s these passionate decorating touches kept love in the air. When I visited Evelyn she gave me baked zucchini nut bread and we listened to classical music broadcast from Windsor, Ontario.

I asked Evelyn what influenced her fashionable affection for unique clothing made of such prints as leopard and camouflage and earrings created from shells by a woman in Florida who is sent a swatch of fabric to match each dress. She shared with me that when she started as a secretary at an accounting firm over fifty years ago, where she continues to walk to work today, that she wanted to look professional in suits she made herself, ensuring no one else would arrive in the same dress. Everyday Evelyn appeared on her own red carpet, and for that I am grateful. The “Evelyn, Nothing Fancy” photographs describe an independent woman, deserved of honor for her expression of individuality through color and adornment. “Evelyn” relays an emotional connection between one individual and her intimate surroundings. Different from the portrayal of current life as seen in the media, these works explore the mysterious beauty that is present behind what inspires an individual to be unique within a world of conformity.



Lesley Louden works as an independent documentary photographer and Professor in Photography in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her recent project “Learning to Hope: Children, HIV, and Education in Lesotho” is included in Moving Walls 15 Documentary Photography Exhibition at the Open Society Institute, Soros Foundation Network on display in NYC and Washington DC from December 2008 – April 2010. Lesley works as a still photographer with filmmaker Anne Evans on projects for social change. Recent projects include documentaries for the African Library Project in sub-Saharan Africa and for the Columbian Environmental Agency CORALINA in the western Caribbean, and BUILD in East Palo Alto and Oakland, CA. Lesley received her BFA in photography from Ohio Wesleyan University and MFA in photography from Cranbrook Academy of Art. She worked as an assistant for fine art photographer Ralph Gibson prior to beginning her own career. Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries in the US and Australia.


Related links



36 thoughts on “lesley louden – “evelyn, nothing fancy””

  1. ahh, classy lady.. utterly.

    enjoy the respectful irony both in the title and the way evelyn is enabled to speak for herself..
    good stuff.. thanks.

  2. Great work, Lesley.

    Technically, I appreciate the fact that the video is not such but a succession of photographs with her voice all around.

    I like the way her ‘no-fancy’ universe is portrayed. The way the work achieves precisely what it pretends, and how I have the feeling to have a very concise description of Evelyn’s universe.

    I also love blue.

  3. Chlaustrobhobia, that is what I feel here.. don’t know how much it is because of the lady’s voice, and how much because of the photographs themselves.. probably a combination of both.

    It makes me want to run off, the need for air..

    Great work, Lesley!

  4. I woke up under a bit of a cloud this morning and this has put a smile on my face. What a great essay. She is one class act. Wish I could meet her. Makes me wonder what “odd” things I will be doing at that age that someone might want to photograph and document. Hummmm.

  5. You are way way kinder on her than I would have been in your shoes. Subtle. Not a big fan of the imagery on its own, but the whole does work. Well done.


  6. Delightful: I love the way Evelyn doesn’t complete her sentences and yet you understand the complete sentence! Lovely colour palette – entirely suitable for the subject. Thanks Lesley.

  7. I fell in love with this piece of work. Her voice and the pictures have a great coherence.
    (and yes, Eva, I would probably run off afterwards, too :)

    Congrats Lesley!

  8. I had to make a second visit, because when I came by the first time, I did not want to get trapped into something that was going to hold me for four minutes and control the pace at which I looked at the pictures. But, finally, I decided that if I am going to be part of the burn community and comment whether I have anything valuable to say or not, I had better take four minutes and take a look at it.

    As a package, I found it well done, charmingly sad.

    Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio…

    Yes, lonely eyes… that of which we dream and how we picture ourselves against the futility of the years that overwhelm and take us down.

    But it is good to hang one and keep fighting, and that is what she appears to be doing.

  9. Why the claustrophobia and the running away? This is how Evelyn lives and, by extension, a lot of old people. And that’s how many old people talk, too.

  10. i knew at least one or two would charecterize evelyn as ‘old’ or elderly, and i’m really glad it wasn’t lesley… actually one of the things i like about the essey is the irrellevance of her age.. it’s a portrait of an excentric, working woman according to her.


  11. There’s a lot to like here – the voiceover dancing with the music, the richly saturated images, the pacing, the simple cuts, fades and left-right splits. It works exceedingly well as a piece, every element building upon and reinforcing an image of Evelyn.

    My favorite aspect – early on Evelyn talks about the color blue making her happy, yet the shot is a lonely one, Evelyn alone in a room, the photo taken through the doorway of another. That one moment, plus some of Evelyn’s expressions – a distant gaze with a hint of pensiveness (loneliness?) – subtly suggest that her happy home is a bulwark against some unsaid sadness or regret. These subtle moments elevate this piece above simple high fructose corn syrup and into something more interesting and complex.

    Thank you for sharing!

  12. Utterly delightful

    This essay illustrates what I miss in a lot of work, an intimate connection with a real human being, not just another cog in a clever composition. I can relate to this lovely lady, she seems very familiar.
    While on some level, she is a caricature of herself, she is also all of us. She is lonely. She clings to the superficial. Her eyes and voice sound bewildered and betray the fear of her own mortality.

    Thankyou for this Lesley, and congratulations.

  13. It’s been long time I haven’t commented here in Burn.
    I feel doing it now because I believe this essay could sparkle a good discussion on the meaning of these kind of “one-person” stories…

    As far as the pictures are concerned, apart from some that are really a bit Martin Parr like, the rest is pretty much like the title, nothing fancy.

    The story itself could have been more interesting if I would have seen this woman in other contexts rather than solely in her own place (Eva is right here in feeling claustrophobic!) because the film becomes too much repetitive and too soon.

    On the overall, I’d like to add that it is indeed a huge challenge to deal with a one-person story. Sometimes, as I feel with this Evelyn story, the essay cannot be very much articulated and it becomes something weird between a wannabe fine art piece and paradoxically a kind of propaganda/advertising of this woman.

    Sorry for being frank, but maybe if you would have collected several personal stories with a common thread, and would have put them together similarly in a multimedia piece, it probably made more sense to me, as I could have relate more with Evelyn and to what makes her special.


  14. Not much energy to write, but want to chime in to add support…and to offer Mimi and alternative view…

    First of all, the best approach (for me) to ‘encounter’ this piece is simply to be enveloped. this story is all about VOICE. I don’t mean just Evelyn’s literal voice, but the voice of the story and all the manifold vehicle by which it is expressed. I love, simply, that as a piece the parts (especially on repeated viewing) did not ‘stick out’ but melded perfectly, the way might notice initially how a story is told or written or expressed (prose, candence, tembre, pause, elocution, grammar, syntax, etc) and appreciate/love all those aspects but in the end are seduced and charmed and informed by the ‘meaning’ and the jilt of the story itself. In the end, ALL the components of this story worked their tale upon me…the pictures, her magnificent voice and manner of speaking, the beautiful mid-western manner, her calm and her perspective (baring history and pop culture), the odd elipses of pause, the giving of the audience their own chance to fill in a though, ‘you know…’, the photographs, the sense of this place, her place, the Beethoven in march with her cadence and decor and the magnificent presence, her presence…it all works…

    but what truly works, is not that she appears ‘odd’ or mocked, but to the contrary, we gain an insight into our own predilections, but focusing on one woman’s home and ‘unusual’ life (clothing, decore, etc), we understand, fuck, is our obsession with photography, for example, any less odd….this piece works so seemlessly on that level that we simply, or I wish simply, there wre more…i want to go on and on and listen to here….the rooms become voice and not at all the point of the piece in the end, but markers, physical doors through which we’re allowed to settle in at home…

    In truth, it has the same empathy and understanding of an Errol Morris film…in particular, ‘fast, cheap and out of control’….not for the content, because Morris is a master of the visual non sequitir, and this piece is filled with them….especially the way Evelyn speaks AND the visual non-sequitir….so rich so funny and so real, that i was left spellbound…i wanted much more of her….

    as for Mimi’s interesting point, i’d offer this rejoinder:

    Mimi: all stories are essentially the story of 1 person, in truth, the best of stories. More importantly, her own voice, her own life contains such a rich rich array of american history that it is not really about her but about more, about memory and history and collective identity…,but most importantly, i think when we focuse on a person, when we really listen to that person as, clearly Lesley has done, it becomes our benefit, our connection to another, to others….rather than propoganda, i say, god damn, this woman reminds me of my aunt, or a woman i used to live below, and there come the rest of the stories….Lesley’s generosity to focus on this as not an ‘oddity’ but as a real person who has a passion for blue and pink, for clothing, for story telling, not fancy, is the passion shared by us all….

    give me a great story of one person over all the sociological tracts and i’ll be a happy person…

    the photographs, themselves, were not, to me, the point…they’re integral…in a way, serviceable…good pictures that help build the story, they do not call attention to themselves, but infact, allow us to focus on Evelyn….and her extraordinary story and character…

    this is true, integrated filmmaking…

    loved it

  15. Bob Thanks,
    I will indeed reflect on your very useful and generous insight. I need time to read your comment again and come back to you, but I can see the valid points of your thesis already.

    About the type of one-person stories which I think work very well, we have the greatest W Eugene Smith (Country Doctor, Nurse….) and the Superb Eugene Richards (Below The Line plus many more).

    Anyway thanks a lot for the input!!!!

  16. Mimi :))

    i was going to mention Richards…and also Soth…Alec’s films/multi=media work have the same sense…it’s not really about the photographs/photography, but about telling a particular story through the lens of images, voice…the editing elements here are very strong…except for the final pan up of Evelyn…i didnt like that…as it makes her look like a stature, like Lincoln in the Lincoln memorial…and odd to pan up from her ankles..that aside, i loved the editing…

    and one thing might be a also helpful…this story has such a strong American Vernacular, that it may resonate more here….that might be a tough thing, unfamiliar with the specifics of the story (joe dimaggio/marilyn monroe, working for a business with suits, etc)….

    but, i think your point is necessary for a good conversation :))


  17. Thanks for your always astute insights Bob, thanks in particular for;

    “the photographs, themselves, were not, to me, the point…they’re integral…in a way, serviceable…good pictures that help build the story, they do not call attention to themselves, but infact, allow us to focus on Evelyn….”

    although “servicable..good” perhaps suggests that they are not as strong as they could be. I think they are perfect.

  18. Ok,
    I read again your comment and the following one too.
    I totally appreciate the value for your local history, which in the case of US in some cases recalls something of value also for the non-americans. In the specific Marilyn and Joe.

    I appreciate this, and I appreciate the way Lesley edits and puts together this essay. Brava to her for these merits!

    I am only doubtful on the value of one-man/woman story when this tale has no greater connections to some issues, references, or more loosely, co-ordinates to something in (at least) an ideal outside…

    Or maybe I have seen too many of this sort of stories and I became cynical towards it….?

    Just briefly I am slightly allergic to the ever growing fragmentation representation of reality.
    You see, all these personal if not intimate stories that are produced more and more often, do tend to be a bit claustrophobic in that the reference point is increasingly oneself experience, perspective or emotion….The objectives of creative and artistic research have become focussed on the peculiar single and intimate subjective values. Therefore it becomes more and more difficult to judge, analyse or comment constructively onto a piece of work because this would be subjective too.

    However, I understand I cannot bore you guys any longer, and my keyboard is not really responding anylonger, I have to go to repair it.

  19. This is a truly wonderful piece. This woman reminds me of someone I know, and is a piece of history that is being recorded and kept for posterity.
    I think this is what life is all about, many individuals living separately and together at the same time…

    Really well done :)

  20. I am absolutely in love with Burn! And I just came across it yesterday. I just decided to get more into photography, and this insight into Evelyn’s world clenches it. Well done! A great artist/photographer can reveal something relatable even in a world that is so different from your own. It makes me miss my grandmother.

  21. Bit behind on the essays here but just want to say I love this piece. May use it to show my future high school students in the rock photography camps I teach. Of course this has nothing to do with rock photography, but it shows how one can build something out of seemingly “nothing.” When asked what they like to shoot outside of class many of my students said family, but really didn’t understand how to actually do that. The strength of this piece is it’s finiteness. One doesn’t need dramatic events, famous celebrities, or travel to faraway places to tell a fascinating timeless story.

    Alos, the first use of video that I think actually adds to the piece. The next essay, The Wall, I thought had stronger photos but the video distracted (why not just shoot the whole thing in video?). This found a really nice balance. Well done!

  22. Pingback: ‘Evelyn’ @ semiose.net - Blog

  23. Pingback: Evelyn @ semiose.net

  24. Pingback: something different : Lindsay Carroll

  25. Pingback: lesley louden – “evelyn, nothing fancy” | burn magazine | The Click

  26. Pingback: Nishan Kohli

Comments are closed.