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Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography

October 21, 2014–January 4, 2015

This major retrospective presents the work of a critical figure in the history of modern art, American photographer and filmmaker Paul Strand (1890–1976), whose archive of nearly 4,000 prints stands as a cornerstone of the Museum's collection. Emphasizing the influential artist's most important projects from the 1910s through the 1960s, the exhibition surveys Strand's entire life's work, including his breakthrough trials in abstraction and candid street portraits, close-ups of natural and machine forms, and extended explorations of the American Southwest, Mexico, New England, France, Italy, Scotland, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, and Romania.

This exhibition includes approximately 250 of Strand's finest prints, selected primarily from the Museum's holdings, with important early prints from public and private collections. The wide range of imagery highlights how Strand radically changed his work at several key moments in an effort to identify photography's pivotal role as a means of understanding and describing the modern world. The exhibition also features works by fellow artists from the Alfred Stieglitz circle (Georgia O'Keeffe, John Marin, and Arthur Dove), screenings of Strand's films, and a selection of archival materials.

Exhibition Trailer

Photojournalist David Maialetti on Paul Strand's Portrait of an Italian Village

The Paul Strand Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Paul Strand had a long and prolific career in which he took thousands of photographs over the course of six decades. The Paul Strand Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art comprises prints from a majority of his negatives, including variants and croppings of individual images, making the Museum the world's largest and most comprehensive repository of Strand's work.

Discover more pictures from this one-of-a-kind collection >>


  • 1890
    • October 16: Nathaniel Paul Stransky is born in New York to merchant Jacob Stransky and Matilda Stransky (née Arnstein). In 1895 Jacob Stransky will change the family's last name to Strand.
  • 1902
    • Receives a Brownie camera from his father.
  • 1904
    • Enrolls in the Ethical Culture School. Established in 1878 with the mission to educate the poor, ECS stressed the development of students' intellectual, creative, and ethical capacities.
  • 1907
    • Signs up for "Nature Study and Photography" at ECS, taught by Lewis W. Hine. The class visits Alfred Stieglitz's gallery, 291, where Strand is probably introduced to the work of Robert Adamson and David Octavius Hill, Julia Margaret Cameron, Gertrude Käsebier, Stieglitz, and Clarence White. Around this time he decides to become a photographer.
  • 1908
    • Joins Camera Club of New York and begins experimenting with soft-focus lenses, gum bichromate prints, and enlarged negatives. He will remain a member until 1936, frequently making use of the darkroom facilities.
  • 1909
    • June: Graduates from ECS.
  • 1912
    • Begins work as a commercial photographer.
  • 1913
    • February: Visits the International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known as the "Armory Show," which exhibits work by Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh, introducing the American public to the European avant-garde.
  • Late 1914/early 1915
    • Asks Stieglitz to critique his work, including a landscape study (1914). Stieglitz recommends that Strand stop his lens down to achieve sharper and richer textures.
  • 1916
    • Has his first one-man show, Photographs of New York and Other Places, at 291. Stieglitz also publishes six Strand photographs in his journal Camera Work, Number 48.
    • Makes street portraits at Five Points on the Lower East Side and at Washington Square Park. He attaches a fake lens to his camera so he can photograph undetected.
  • 1917
    • Wins first prize for Wall Street, New York in the twelfth annual Wanamaker Photography Competition, on view March 1–17 in Wanamaker's Department Store, Philadelphia.
    • May: Meets Georgia O'Keeffe in New York. She writes to Anita Pollitzer: "He showed me lots of prints—photographs. And I almost lost my mind over them."
    • June: Eleven of Strand's photographs are published in the final issue of Camera Work, Numbers 49–50, which is devoted entirely to Strand. It includes Abstraction, Bowls (1916), Blind Woman (1916), and White Fence (1916).
  • 1919
    • Makes his first close-up nature picture, Rock, Port Lorne, Nova Scotia.
  • 1920
    • With painter and photographer Charles Sheeler, makes his first film, Manhatta, which is screened the following year in New York City as New York the Magnificent. Begins making nature studies and close-up photographs of machine parts.
    • July: Writes to Sherwood Anderson that he has seen his watercolors at Stieglitz's studio and read his book of short stories, Winesburg, Ohio, which "has given me a still greater sense of a spirit, actively strong and sensitive, penetrating then the crassness and brutality of the American scene, to a new beauty." Winesburg, Ohio will continue to have a lasting impact on Strand, especially on his book projects.
  • 1922
    • Marries Rebecca Salsbury; this marriage lasts until 1933. Acquires an Akeley movie camera. Works as a freelance Akeley cameraman for the following decade in order to finance his artistic projects.
  • 1925
    • Included in the Seven Americans exhibition at the Anderson Galleries, New York, with Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Arthur Dove, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Alfred Stieglitz.
  • 1926
    • Makes his first trip to Colorado and New Mexico, where he photographs tree-root forms and Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Continues to photograph in these locales in 1930–32.
  • 1927–28
    • Strands spend their summers in Georgetown, Maine, where Paul photographs close-ups of plants, tree roots, and rocks.
  • 1929
    • Travels to the Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec, where he makes his first sustained investigation of a specific locality.
  • 1932–34
    • Lives in Mexico, where he photographs throughout the country and works on his first feature-length film, Redes (The Wave), which premieres in 1936 in Mexico and the following year in the US.
  • 1935–43
    • Works on various film projects in the United States, including The Plow that Broke the Plains, a Resettlement Agency film, and Native Land (1942), a dramatized documentary about civil liberties violations in the 1930s. Helps establish Frontier Films, a nonprofit educational motion picture production group, and acts as president from 1937 to 1942.
  • 1936
    • Marries Virginia Stevens; this marriage lasts until 1949. Returns to Gaspé and makes a new series of prints.
  • 1940
    • Photographs of Mexico, a portfolio of twenty photogravures (prints made from engraving plates prepared by photographic methods), is published in New York by Virginia Stevens.
  • 1943–44
    • Travels to Vermont and returns to still photography after a decade working in film.
  • 1945
    • April 24–June 10: Mid-career retrospective Paul Strand: Photographs, 1915–1945, curated by Nancy Newhall, at the Museum of Modern Art. Show travels to Cleveland Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Art, and Portland Art Museum.
    • Spends late summer into the fall photographing in New England for his first collaborative book project, Time in New England. Published in 1950, the book is composed of Strand's photographs of architecture, landscapes, artifacts, and people paired with historical New England texts selected by Nancy Newhall.
  • 1950
    • Leaves for Paris with photographer Hazel Kingsbury, not returning to the United States until 1959. Begins work on a second book project, La France de profil, with photographs by Strand and texts by French poet Claude Roy.
  • 1951
    • Marries Hazel Kingsbury, whom he met in 1949. She will be his partner on all future photographic ventures.
  • 1952–53
    • La France de profil is published. Makes photographs in Italy, primarily in Luzzara, a small village along the Po River. The Luzzara photographs are later published in a book with text by filmmaker Cesare Zavattini, Un Paese: Portrait of an Italian Village (1955).
  • 1954
    • Makes photographs in South Uist, Scotland, and the surrounding islands for the book Tir a'Mhurain, Outer Hebrides (1962) with text by Basil Davidson.
  • 1955–58
    • Relocates to Orgeval, France, which will remain his home until his death. Works on portraits of prominent French intellectuals and close-ups of his garden.
  • 1959–60
    • Travels to and photographs Egypt and Romania. The Egypt pictures are published later in Living Egypt (1969) with text by James Aldridge.
  • 1962
    • Photographic trip to Morocco for an unrealized book project.
  • 1963–64
    • Travels to Ghana to make photographs of the country at the invitation of President Kwame Nkrumah. Posthumously published as Ghana: An African Portrait (1976) with text by Basil Davidson.
  • 1971
    • The Philadelphia Museum of Art organizes Paul Strand Photographs, a major retrospective of his work. The exhibition travels to the City Art Museum of Saint Louis; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco.
  • 1976
    • Paul Strand dies in Orgeval, France, on March 31.
    • The Paul Strand Foundation is established by Hazel Strand and Michael Hoffman. It will later be absorbed into the Aperture Foundation as the Paul Strand Archive.
    • Strand's negatives are deposited at the Library of Congress. They will be formally donated in 1982, but the Library of Congress will return them to the Paul Strand Archive in 1986.
  • 1980
    • The Paul Strand Retrospective Collection, comprising 496 prints from the 1971 retrospective, is donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a gift from the estate of the artist.
  • 2009–14
    • The Philadelphia Museum of Art acquires the core print collection of the Paul Strand Archive through several gifts and a purchase agreement with the Aperture Foundation.


Philadelphia Museum of Art (October 21, 2014–January 4, 2015)
Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (March 7–May 17, 2015)
Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid (June 3–August 23, 2015)
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London (March 19–July 3, 2016)

Main Building

About the Artist

Having come of age in the New York photography scene spearheaded by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand explored the modernist possibilities of the camera more fully than any other artist before 1920. He mastered the prevailing Pictorialist aesthetic in his early twenties, and then between 1915 and 1917 produced images that variously explored abstraction, the modern American landscape, and close-up portraits of anonymous urban subjects. These pictures helped establish photography's significance as a modern art form, and they influenced an entire generation of photographers. Soon after these experiments, Strand embraced filmmaking, collaborating with American painter Charles Sheeler to make Manhatta (1921), often hailed as the first avant-garde film. He also embarked on an investigation of the large-format camera's optical power in portraits and studies of machines and natural forms. Perhaps influenced by his film work, Strand began to explore the potential of photographic series on trips to the American Southwest and Canada's Gaspé Peninsula in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1932 he relocated to Mexico, where he advanced his efforts to create photographic series and at the same time began to contemplate the political purposes of film and photography, as seen in his second major film, Redes (released in the United States as The Wave) (1936). Returning to the United States in 1935, Strand became a founder of Frontier Films in 1936, and over the next six years directed and shot documentaries—including the film masterpiece Native Land (1942)—that addressed the rise of fascism around the globe and threats to civil liberties in the United States. In the midst of World War II, he returned to still photography, eventually relocating to France in 1950 in response to a political climate that had become increasingly hostile to the American Left. In the last three decades of his life, Strand pursued extended projects in New England, France, Italy, the Hebrides (off the coast of Scotland), Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, and Romania, exploring the particular ways that history and modernity blended in each. Strand conceived these projects as books, which became the most important form of presentation for his work from 1950 onward. During these years, he also made a remarkable suite of photographs within the confines of his garden in Orgeval, France, a personal counterpoint to his travel projects.


The international tour is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE and made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art.


Peter Barberie, The Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center; with Amanda Bock, Project Assistant Curator

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