Paul Strand
American, 1890-1976
Website about the artist: no website
Paul Strand, one of the towering figures of American 20th c. photography, was born in New York City, the only child of parents of Bohemian-Jewish descent. He first became interested in photography as a student at the Ethical Culture School under the influence of Lewis Hine. It was Hine who introduced Strand to Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo Secession Gallery in 1907. In the next few years Strand was exposed both to the new abstract painting and sculpture exhibited by Stieglitz - works by artists such as Picasso, Braque, and Brancusi - and also to the photography of such 19th c. masters as Hill and Adamson and Julia Margaret Cameron, and such contemporary photographers as Edward Steichen. Strand became a self-employed commercial photographer after graduation and a brief European trip. He began his own photographic work on the side, experimenting with soft-focus lenses, and generally working in a pictorialist style. During this period, he exhibited at both the New York Camera Club and the London Salon.

In the years 1915-1917, Stieglitz and Strand were in close contact. It becomes difficult to distinguish who influenced whom, but when at the end of this period Strand produced a body of sharpfocus work, including somewhat abstracted still-lifes of kitchen bowls and cityscapes, Steiglitz was prompt to recognize the breakthrough this work represented. The last two issues of Camera Work were devoted to the most recent work of Strand, and Stieglitz gave Strand a one-man show at the 291 gallery. In an essay he wrote in 1916 Stieglitz said: "Strand is a young man I have been watching for years ... without doubt the only important photographer developed in this country since [Alvin Langdon] Coburn.... He has actually added some original vision to photography." Strand became known as an advocate of the new realism called "straight" photography.

After a brief stint as an Army Medical Corps x-ray technician in World War I, Strand was employed as a freelance motion-picture cameraman, photographing sports and medical films, and collaborating with Charles Sheeler on the short film Mannahatta. In 1925, Strand was one of the photographers represented in the Seven Americans exhibition at the Anderson Galleries, and in that year he began his renowned series of close-ups of vegetation and other natural forms.

The 1930s was a period of political concern and activism for Strand; he was an advisor to the Group Theatre in New York, visited the Soviet Union (where he met Sergei Elsenstein and other key Russian avant-garde artists), worked on the film The Plow that Broke the Plains in the U.S., and was active as a producer for Frontier Films on many projects. During this period Strand also worked in Mexico and gathered images for his work The Mexican Portofolio, published with hand-pulled gravures in 1940. It was not until 1943 that Strand ceased his film production and returned to still photography full-time.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, mounted its first full-scale retrospective of a contemporary photographer with the work of Strand in 1945. In 1946-1947 he collaborated with Nancy Newhall on the classic Time in New England, in which excerpts from various texts were joined with Strand's emblematic images of New England's artifacts, architecture, and regional attributes. In the 1950s and 1960s he traveled throughout France, Italy, Egypt, and Ghana, producing a series of photography books: Un Paese (1954), Tir a 'Mhurain: Outer Hebrides (1968), Ghana: An African Portrait (1976). He closely supervised the second printing of The Mexican Portfolio in 1967. In 1971, the Philadelphia Museum of Art honored Strand by organizing a major retrospective, and a two-volume monograph of his work from the years 1915-1968 was published by Aperture. He received numerous other awards and honors in the last two decades of his life: Honor Roll of the American Society of Magazine Photographers (1963), David Octavius Hill Medal (1967), Swedish Photographers Association and Swedish Film Archives Award (1970) and major retrospectives at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Los Angeles Country Museum (1973). His last years were spent working in close collaboration with his third wife, Hazel Kingsbury. He died after a long illness in 1976 at his home in Orgeval, France.

An impeccable printer whose photographs are typified by great richness and sensuousity of surface detail, Strand was one of the major forces of photographic modernism. Embracing a variety of subject matter in his work - landscapes, portraits, still-lifes, architecture, and abstraction - his photographic production was consistent in its concern for formal relationships, its respect for the subject depicted, and an innate classicism.