Biography | Bibliography
Paul Strand was an American photographer and filmmaker who, along with fellow modernist photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston, helped establish photography as an art form in the 20th century. His diverse body of work, spanning six decades, covers numerous genres and subjects throughout the Americas, Europe, and Africa
“Paul Strand first studied photography at the Ethical Cultural School (New York City) with Lewis W. Hine, who introduced him to Alfred Stieglitz and the “291” gallery. He received encouragement from Stieglitz and was strongly influenced by the work shown in his gallery, particularly that of Picasso, Cézanne, and other modern artists. Paul Strand had briefly worked in the soft-focus pictorial style that was still dominant in art photography, but in 1915 he began his first experiments with abstraction.
His close-ups of kitchen bowls and other works of this early period (The White Fence, for example) were studies in design; sharply delineated shapes and patterns were of prime importance, though the images never completely lost touch with reality. Stieglitz recognized the power of these works and saw that they pointed toward a new realism; he gave Paul Strand a one-man show at “291” and published his photographs in the last two issues of Camera Work (the final issue was devoted exclusively to Strand’s work). Pictorialism had reached the end of its creative period and Strand’s new images shaped the aesthetic of “straight” photography that was soon to dominate photography as an art form in America.
In 1919, Strand began to explore nature as a source of imagery – trees, leaves, grasses, rock formations, and landscapes – and it became an enduring theme in his work. His other major concern was people. From his early photographs on the streets of New York City, to documents of New England, Europe, Egypt, Africa, and elsewhere, he portrayed a sympathetic and direct appreciation of the humanity of his subjects.
As Strand’s work matured it lost its early abstraction. He photographed directly, often using a flat, frontal viewpoint. He no longer searched for effect in unusual points of view or in expanded contrast, and he became almost self-effacing in his attempt to reveal objects without introducing overt comment. “No picture of Strand’s is brilliant for brilliance’s sake,” observed Leo Hurwitz. “To him the object is all important. His photograph is his best effort to render the emotional significance of the object. His approach is one of utmost simplicity. In this sense his photographs are impersonal, selfless; yet they are characterized by a strong emotion” (The Mexican Portfolio).
Although Strand is best known for his early abstractions, his return to still photography in this later period produced some of his most significant work in the form of six book “portraits” of place: Time in New England (1950), La France de Profil (1952), Un Paese (featuring photographs of Luzzara and the Po River Valley in Italy, Einaudi, 1955), Tir a’Mhurain / Outer Hebrides (1962), Living Egypt (1969) and Ghana: An African Portrait (with commentary by Basil Davidson; London: Gordon Fraser, 1976).
In the 1920s-1940s, Strand pursued his concurrent interest in film. The films on which he worked included Manhatta (also called New York the Magnificent), made in 1921 with Charles Sheeler; The Wave, made in 1933 for the Mexican government; and Pare Lorentz’s The Plow That Broke the Plains, made in 1935 for the U.S. Resettlement Administration”1
1From Lee D. Witkin, and Barbara London, Selected Photographers: A Collector’s Compendium, The Photograph Collector’s Guide, Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1979, 246.
Rebecca Busselle, Paul Strand Southwest, New York: Aperture, 2004.
John Cheim, Robert Miller, Paul Strand: Rebecca, New York: The Robert Miller Gallery, 1996.
Basil Davidson, Paul Strand, Ghana: An African Portrait, Aperture, 1976.
Sharon Denton, Paul Strand Archive : Guide Series Number Two, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ: Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, 1980.
Catherine Duncan, Basil Davidson, Tir A Mhurain: The Outer Hebrides of Scotland Paul Strand, New York: Aperture Foundation, 2002.
Sarah Greenough, Paul Strand: An American Vision, Washington, D.C.: Aperture Foundation; National Gallery of Art, 1990.
Kaspar Kleischmann, Wolfgang Wiemann, Paul Strand, Zurich, Switzerland: Gallery Zur Stockeregg, 1987.
Gerald Peters, Megan Fox, Paul Strand: An Extraordinary Vision, Santa Fe, NM: Gerald Peters Gallery, 1994.
Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, Toward a Deeper Understanding Paul Strand at work, Gottingen, Germany: Steidl, 2007.
Cesare Zavattini, Paul Strand, Un Paese: Portrait of an Italian Village, New York: Aperture, 1997.