Born: October 16, 1890 | New York City
Died: March 31, 1976 (aged 85) | Orgeval, Yvelines
Paul Strand was an influential photographer and early icon of the “straight photography” school. In contrast to Pictorialism, “Straight Photography” was a move to “pure photography” which was loosely defined as having stylistic traits that were not manipulated heavily to mimic other art forms such as painting. A modernist, Strand was highly influenced by Alfred Stieglitz and Charles Sheeler. His work had a huge impact on the f/64 school of photographers (Ansel Adams, Edward Weston etc).
Paul Strand was born in 1890. Growing up in New York, he began taking photography courses with Lewis Hine at the age of 17. His studies with Hine included a field trip to the famous art gallery, 291 located on 5th Avenue in New York and operated by Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. As Strand became fascinated with the modernest photography, sculpture and paintings shown at 291 he became inspired and committed to his own work as a photographer.
In 1915 he started working with large format cameras (then referred to as “straight photography”). Combining elements of abstraction and reality in his compositions, Strand began to develop his own personal style. Heavily influenced by Stieglitz and Charles Sheeler, his subject matter ranged from architectural pictures, portraits and still life studies.
By the 1920’s, Paul Strand’s interest in social consciousness influenced him to start considering the relationship between art and politics. Strand was convinced that art could have a positive impact on awareness and social thinking and he began to devote his career to progressive causes. He joined Berenice Abbott and started the Photo League in 1936. The Photo League was a collaborative group of photographers who’s initial purpose was to raise social awareness of trade union activities and social protests.
It was also during this period that Strand became intensely interested in moving images and spent nearly a decade working in cinematography. He helped start the documentary film company Frontier Films and spent the next decade working extensively with moving pictures.
Interestingly while his cinematography work was very focused in the Modernist aesthetic, his still photography work during this period began to shift. Traveling to locations from New Mexico to New England, the architectural elements of his work were less and less favoring an admiration for minimal compositions and simplicity.
Strand’s political interests were intensely leftist which by 1949 had become at odds with the 1950’s conservatism of the United States. Frontier Films was one of the organizations labeled by the US Attorney General as being “subversive” and “un-American”. He moved to France where he would spend the rest of his life. He published his books in East Germany which meant as products produced in a communist country, they were prohibited from American sales.
The United States Freedom of Information Act later reviled intelligence documents showing that Strand’s movements through Europe were monitored.
Strand was married 3 different times. His first wife, painter Rebecca Salsbury was a well known subject in Strand’s early work. She’s known as one of the more famous subjects in Strand’s oeuvre.
Strand’s later years were spent creating still photography published in a series of six books that acted as location ‘portraits’ including New England, France, Italy, the Gaelic Western Isles, Egypt and Ghana.
Strand passed away in 1976 at the age of 85.
Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Paul Strand: The Garden at Orgeval
Paul Strand in Mexico
Paul Strand: Sixty Years Of Photographs (Aperture Monograph S)