Photographer, artisan, observer.Paul Strand is a complete photographer.He was a master of all the steps that lead up to a photograph, from the first glance to the darkroom.He is a major and undeniable influence on later generations. Strand makes us pay attention to what is important instead of what is incidental:he forces us to return to the essence of things.
“A symbol of every old and new desire”.Photography is “the symbol of a great impersonal struggle”, Paul Strand once said.Strand’s work tells the story of modern photography and modern human beings.
From his first steps in life, every gesture was oriented towards photography. He was born in New York, the child of Czechoslovakian immigrants. While a student of Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture School, a visit to Alfred Stieglitz’s Gallery 291 made him think of photography as something more than a hobby. From that moment,he devoted himself to observing the world and capturing it through his camera.From Hine he took the idea of photography as a tool for denouncing injustice, as a political element, and throughout his career Strand was a politically committed artist.
Recognition never eluded him. He showed his work at 291 and in The Modern Gallery. He appeared in the last two issues of Camera Work, explored the principles of modern aesthetics, and delved deeply into the New Objectivity style with his urban landscapes and photographs of machines.Later he devoted himself wholeheartedly to cinema, giving it up only because of an inability to finance these projects after the war. At this time he decided to channel his energies into the preparation of meticulously designed photography books, seeking to combine text and image as he did with cinema. Time in New England, with Nancy Newhall, was the first of these publications. Later, after moving to Europe in 1950, this was followed by La France de profil with Claude Roy (1952), Un Paese (A Village) with Cesare Zavattini (1955), Tir a’Mhurain with Basil Davidson (1962), Living Egypt (1969) andGhana: An African Portrait (1976).
As a young man, Strand decided to study “how you build a picture, what a picture consists of, how spaces are filled, how the whole must have a kind of unity”. With the passing years, investigations, women (Rebecca Salsbury, Virginia Stevens and Hazel Kingsbury), countries observed and acknowledgments, this maxim remained: environmental influences that he assumed and transformed into an impeccable, elegant and raw way of seeing.
The film he made with Charler Sheeler entitled Manhattan (1921), introduced as New York the Magnificent, was one of the great achievements of the day:7 minutes that featured the streets of New York, the city depicted so many times as a paradigm of our world.In the thirties he pursued a career as a freelancer in this field. Due to his travels, he came into contact with the documentary cinema sponsored by the Mexican government. This allowed him to film Redes/The Wave, which shed light on the economic plight of a fishing village near Ver Cruz. This was followed by The Plow That Broke The Plainswith Pare Lorentz and produced by Frontier Films, and his most ambitious work Native Land, which debuted in 1941.
In 1956 Edward Steichen commissioned an exhibition that would prove to be essential today in the history of photography: within the series Diogenes with a Camera appeared Diogenes with a Camera III, where Strand’s work was shown alongside that of Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Walker Evans and August Sander. In 1965 Nancy Newhall introduced him to Michael Hoffman, editor of Aperture, a publication with which Strand would collaborate for the rest of his life and that would oversee his legacy and archives, in addition to editing the two volumes of the catalog of the major retrospective that took place at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1971. Paul Strand: A retrospective monograph.
To his sharp eye, Strand added great mastery of his craft, and his work stands out for it. Working in the darkroom, he opted in particular for papers that contained silver particles, a characteristic that made the whites and blacks more intense and increased contrasts. Richard Benson, who was lucky enough to spend time with Strand the master in his darkroom at the end of his life, wrote this about him:”I learned to simplify in the darkness. ‘Do everything you can with light, son, and never forget that we’re making a photograph not a copy.’ This was a master class on the art of photography.”
“I think of myself as an explorer who has spent his life on a long voyage of discoveries.”The discoveries in each one of his works urge us to explore, to think about the world. When he died in 1976 in Orgeval, two portfolios were published: On My Doorstep and The Garden.He had spent 75 years with a camera strapped around his neck.