Portrait of Paul Strand
Paul StrandAmerican, 1890 - 1976 Paul Strand was born in New York City on October 16, 1890, to Matilda Arnstein Strand and her husband Jacob, a merchant. He died in Orgeval, France, on March 31, 1976. He became involved with photography as a teenager, and over the course of his long life he made approximately 5,000 photographs. The Paul Strand Collection includes prints from a majority of his negatives.
In 1907 at the age of 17, Paul Strand began studying photography while a student at the Ethical Culture School in New York City, under the guidance of social documentary photographer Lewis Hine. In the years following his formal education, Strand joined the Camera Club of New York, opened a commercial photography studio, and began working in the Pictorialist mode, making soft-focus, gum bichromate and platinum prints of landscape and architecture during a 1911 trip to Europe and of his native New York. By 1915 Strand had moved away from Pictorialism, producing instead sharply-defined images, including the iconic Wall Street, New York (1915) and Abstraction, Bowls (1916)—creative experiments with light, shadow, form, and perspective. Such investigations along with a series of candid "street portraits" made with a concealed camera (such as the well-known 1916 photograph, Blind Woman) caught the attention of photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who staged a one-man show of Strand's photographs in 1916 at his modernist art and photography gallery 291. Stieglitz also featured a total of seventeen Strand photographs in issues of his journal, Camera Work. After serving as an X-ray photographer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War I, Strand resumed the experimental picture-making he began before the war. The isolation of everyday objects that produced near-abstract images like Abstraction, Bowls continued to interest Strand in the 1920s, and took form in a series of close-up images of machinery and studies of tree roots, plants, and rocks made in Maine, Colorado, and New Mexico. Strand also continued to redefine his investigation of place throughout the 1920s. In photographs such as Wall Street, New York and Blind Woman, Strand grappled with how to represent urban life--its public spaces, architecture, and inhabitants--a project that culminated in 1921 when he coproduced with painter and photographer Charles Sheeler the film Manhatta. As the decade progressed, Strand turned his attention toward smaller communities, rural areas, and natural landscapes--subjects that would fascinate him for the rest of his career. These new concerns are best represented by the photographs he made on the Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec, of fishermen, villages, harbors, and barns; it is in this series that Strand made his first sustained, comprehensive investigation of a specific locality.
This decade of Strand's career is marked by an expansion and clarification of the filmic and photographic projects he initiated in the 1920s. Though he would eventually settle on the medium of still photography, Strand spent much of the 1930s exploring the possibilities of moving pictures. Most notable are Redes (The Wave) (1936), a poignant and critical film detailing the economic and social struggles of Mexican fishermen, and Native Land (1942), a film unmasking civil liberties violations of laborers in the United States. Though film projects preoccupied Strand for much of the decade, he continued to produce an impressive body of still photographs. From 1930–32 Strand revisited the New Mexico and Colorado landscapes that had fascinated him in the late twenties. During these trips he expanded his vision from plant forms and the mesa to include architectural fragments of abandoned mining towns and sweeping landscapes that belie a complex dialogue between natural forms and man-made ones. Strand lived in Mexico from 1932–34, where he produced a series of landscape, architecture, and candid photographs. Sleeping Man, Mexico (1933) reveals a style of portraiture he had not employed since 1917 when he made his "street portraits" in New York. From this project Strand assembled his first published portfolio, Photographs of Mexico (1940), a set of twenty photogravures (prints made from engraving plates prepared by photographic methods). In 1936, Strand returned to Gaspé, photographing its inhabitants, harbor, dwellings, and boathouses once more.
The 1940s and Time in New England
In 1943 Strand began making photographs around New England—in his words, capturing the "character of the land itself, the people who live in it, the things which they have made and built." The resulting publication, Time in New England (1950), was seven years in the making and marks a pivotal moment in the artist's career. In his New England pictures, Strand synthesized his earlier work in landscape, architectural studies, and portraiture to create a cohesive picture of place, capturing with his camera multiple, singular moments that together describe the essential nature of the region. The photographs interweave the everyday (bell ropes, church doors, farmhouses, meeting houses, and fishermen), past historical artifacts of New England's Puritan heritage (gravemarkers and figureheads), and seemingly timeless natural vistas (mountains, valleys, and seascapes). Time in New England not only fuses genres of image making but also brings together different temporal moments of the same region. Strand worked on the book in collaboration with Nancy Newhall, then acting as curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The assemblage of texts provided by Newhall is not a history told by way of a string of facts; like the pictures, it narrates in broad swaths and includes excerpts from school primers, poetry, treatises, letters, speeches, and prose. Text and image are interspersed throughout; in places, the logic behind their grouping is transparent, while in others the dialogue between image and word is more subtle. Newhall thought the New England pictures were among Strand's best work to date, and they played a significant role in the exhibition she organized for MoMA in 1945, Paul Strand: Photographs 1915–1945-- the museum's first retrospective of the work of a photographer.
In 1950 Strand traveled to France hoping to find a small, rural village in order to photograph its inhabitants, their homes, and their relationship to the land on which they lived. Over the next few years he traveled the country searching for such a place, to his mind with little success, but he ultimately returned with a large number of photographs from which he assembled his second book project, La France de profil (1952). Like Time in New England, the book is interspersed with text and photographs. Most of the text was selected or written by the poet Claude Roy, with whom Strand collaborated on the publication. On occasion the text becomes intimately entangled with the photographs, whereas the pairings in Time in New England remained distant; in certain places, prose passages are written in direct response to the images, describing and naming the human subjects pictured in the corresponding photograph. In other places, this correlation is not so evident. Both writer and photographer interweave references to present and past, the specific and the general, and the small detail and the larger picture to create a far-reaching portrait of the country. In 1953, Strand found his small, rural village to photograph not in France but in Italy. In the small town of Luzzara, Strand worked in much the same manner as he did in his travels around France, picturing the interrelationship between people, artifacts, architecture, and nature. The publication format Strand began using with Time in New England was employed here, as well; in 1955 his Luzzara photographs were published as Un Paese, with text by the Italian filmmaker Cesare Zavattini. The following year Strand traveled to the Outer Hebrides, Scotland; these photographs were eventually published in London in 1962, with text by Basil Davidson, as the book Tir a'Mhurain, Outer Hebrides. Throughout these trips to Scotland and Italy, France remained Strand's mainstay; in the mid-fifties he made it his permanent home when he and his wife Hazel purchased a house in Orgeval. The house allowed Strand--for the first time in his life--to set up a permanent darkroom, and it is here that he worked and lived, with few exceptions, for the rest of his life.
The 1960s and 1970s
From 1959-60, Strand expanded his travels of western Europe and the United States and embarked upon photographic projects in Egypt and Romania, followed by travel to Morocco in 1962. In 1963, at the invitation of President Kwame Nkrumah, Strand traveled to Ghana to make photographs. Like his European projects of the 1950s, Strand's 1960s projects aimed to create a complex portrait of a particular place and its relationship to the people who lived there. And like the Europe pictures, they are also about the process of learning to understand and uncover as an outsider what ought to constitute that portrait--in most cases, Strand had not previously visited these sites, nor did he speak their languages. His photographs reflect his gradual discovery of the nature of place, and the processes of photographing and learning were mutually reinforcing. After his last trip to Ghana in 1964, Strand--then seventy-five years old--traveled much less, turning his camera instead toward the gardens surrounding his home in Orgeval. However, he continued working with his travel photographs and published the Egypt pictures in London in 1969 as the book Living Egypt; shortly before his death, the Ghana pictures were published by Aperture as Ghana: An African Portrait (1976). In 1971 the Philadelphia Museum of Art organized Paul Strand Photographs, the first retrospective of Strand's work since his mid-career exhibition at MoMA in 1945. The 1971 exhibition also marks the first time that most of Strand's work after 1950 was seen by an American audience: neither La France de Profil (1952) nor Un Paese (1955) had been translated into English; Living Egypt was published in London; and little or nothing from Ghana, Morocco, and Romania had been published or exhibited stateside. The Philadelphia Museum of Art's exhibition--which traveled to five museums in the early 1970s--is the largest exhibition of Strand's work to date that attends his entire career. Strand returned to the United States in 1973 to see the exhibition installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Upon his return to Orgeval, France, in 1975, Strand continued working on the portfolios The World on My Doorstep and The Garden, which were published shortly after he passed away in March 1976.