While Walker Evans may be best known for his photographs from small towns across the US during the Great Depression, an exhibition at SFMOMA shows him also as a longtime New Yorker fascinated with the particulars of urban life.

Walker Evans, a major retrospective on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) through February 4, draws several comparisons between Evans and Eugène Atget (1857–1927), a French photographer who was similarly obsessed with everyday objects, scenes, and people — what the exhibition refers to as “the vernacular.” The artists’ shared interests and divergences are instructive in understanding urban photography’s place in Evans’s work.

Often with an air of nostalgia, Atget documented Paris as it changed under the weight of modernity. While cities ities feature prominently in Evans’s earliest photographs from the late 1920s, but these works more closely resemble Bauhaus-inspired avant-garde photography. They are detached, not wistful.