Text from A World History of Photography
Profile: Paul Strand
Paul Strand's debut in photography coincided with the first stirrings of modernism in the visual arts in America. Born in New York in 1890, he attended both the class and club in photography taught by Hine at the Ethical Culture School in 1908. A visit to Stieglitz's 291 gallery arranged by Hine inspired Strand to explore the expressive possibilities of the medium, which until then he had considered a hobby. Although he was active for a brief period at the Camera Club of New York, whose darkrooms he continued to use for about 20 years, his ideas derived first from the circle around Stieglitz and then from the group that evolved around the Modern Gallery in 1915, including Sheeler and Schamberg. Strand's work, which was exhibited at 291, the Modem Gallery, and the Camera Club, gained prizes at the Wanamaker Photography exhibitions and was featured in the last two issues of Camera Work. From about 1915 on, he explored the visual problems that were to become fundamental to the modernist aesthetic as it evolved in both Europe and the United States. During the 1920s he mainly photographed urban sites, continued with the machine forms begun earlier, and turned his attention to nature, using 5 x 7 and 8 x 10 inch view cameras and making contact prints on platinum paper. In these works, acknowledged as seminal in the evolution of the New Objectivity, form and feeling are indivisible and intense. In addition, Strand's writings, beginning in 1917 with "Photography and the New God," set forth the necessity for the photographer to evolve an aesthetic based on the objective nature of reality and on the intrinsic capabilities of the large-format camera with sharp lens.
After service in the Army Medical Corps, where he was introduced to X-ray and other medical camera procedures, Strand collaborated with Sheeler on Manhatta, released as New York the Magnificent in 1921. Shortly afterward, he purchased an Akeley movie camera and began to work as a free-lance cinematographer, a career that he followed until the early 1930S when the industry for making news and short features was transferred from New York to the West Coast. Aware of the revolutionary social ideas being tested in Mexico through his visits to the Southwest, Strand sought the opportunity to make still photographs and to produce government-sponsored documentary films; Redes, or The Wave, released in 1934, depicted the economic problems confronting a fishing village near Vera Cruz. Following a futile attempt to assist the Russian director Sergei Eisenstein in the Soviet Union in 1935, Strand worked with Pare Lorentz on The Plough that Broke the Plains, following which he and other progressive filmmakers organized Frontier Films to produce a series of pro-labor and antiFascist movies. Their most ambitious production, Native Land, which evolved from a Congressional hearing into antilabor activities, was released in 1941 on the eve of the second World War, at which time its message was considered politically divisive.
Unable to finance filmmaking after World War II, Strand turned to the printed publication for a format that might integrate image and text in a matter akin to the cinema. Time in New England, a collaboration with Nancy Newhall, sought to evoke a sense of past and present through images of artifact and nature combined with quotations from the region's most lucid writers. Strand continued with enterprises of this nature after he moved to Europe in 1950, eventually producing La France de profil (A Profile of France) with Claude Roy (1952), Un Paese (A Village) with Cesare Zavattini (1955), and Tir a'Mhurain with Basil Davidson (1962), among other works. At his death in 1976, he had been photographing for nearly three-quarters of a century, gradually finding his ideal of beauty and decorum in nature and the simple life.
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