by Gerald Boerner

  

“Everytime I find a film or paper that I like, they discontinue it.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“All good art is abstract in its structure.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“Objectivity is of the very essence of photography, its contribution and at the same time its limitation…”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“I’ve always wanted to be aware of what’s going on around me, and I’ve wanted to use photography as an instrument of research into and reporting on the life of my own time.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“The material of the artist lies not within himself nor in the fabrications of his imagination, but in the world around him. The element which gives life to the great Picassos and Cezannes, to the paintings of Van Gogh, is the relationship of the artist to context, to the truth of the real world. It is the way he sees this world and translates it into art that determines whether the work of art becomes a new and active force within reality, to widen and transform man’s experience. The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer in The World on My Doorstep, the Years 1950 to 1976

“Honesty no less than intensity of vision is the prerequisite of a living expression. This means a real respect for the thing in front of… the photographer… this is accomplished without tricks of process or manipulation through the use of straight photographic methods…”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“The decision as to when to photograph, the actual click of the shutter, is partly controlled from the outside, by the flow of life, but it also comes from the mind and the heart of the artist. The photograph is his vision of the world and expresses, however subtly, his values and convictions.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“The decision as to when to photograph, the actual click of the shutter, is partly controlled from the outside, by the flow of life, but it also comes from the mind and the heart of the artist. The photograph is his vision of the world and expresses, however subtly, his values and convictions.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“I read the other day that Minor White said it takes twenty years to become a photographer. I think that is a bit of an exaggeration. I would say, judging from myself, that it takes at least eight or nine years. But it does not take any longer than it takes to learn to play the piano or the violin. If it takes twenty years, you might as well forget about it!”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

“Look at the things around you, the immediate world around you. If you are alive, it will mean something to you, and if you care enough about photography, and if you know how to use it, you will want to photograph that meaningness. If you let other people’s vision get between the world and your own, you will achieve that extremely common and worthless thing, a pictorial photograph.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

  

Paul Strand (1890 – 1976)

Strand Portrait 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.

Born in New York City to Bohemian parents, in his late teens Strand was a student of renowned documentary photographer Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School. It was while on a fieldtrip in this class that Strand first visited the 291 art gallery – operated by Stieglitz and Edward Steichen – where exhibitions of work by forward-thinking modernist photographers and painters would move Strand to take his photographic hobby more seriously. Stieglitz would later promote Strand’s work in the 291 gallery itself, in his photography publication Camera Work, and in his artwork in the Hieninglatzing studio.

Strand WallStreetSome of this early work, like the well-known "Wall Street," experimented with formal abstractions (influencing, among others, Edward Hopper and his idiosyncratic urban vision). Other of Strand’s works reflect his interest in using the camera as a tool for social reform. He was one of the founders of the Photo League, an association of photographers who advocated using their art to promote social and political causes.

Early Years…

Strand_Still Life with Pear and Bowls 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.

“The camera machine cannot evade the objects which are in front of it. When the photographer selects this movement, the light, the objects, he must be true to them. If he includes in his space a strip of grass, it must be felt as the living differentiated thing it is and so recorded. It must take its proper but no less important place as a shape and a texture in relationship to the mountain tree or what not, which are included.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

Strand_Blind Woman 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.

“Your photography is a record of your living – for anyone who really sees. You may see and be affected by other people’s ways, you may even use them to find your own, but you will have eventually to free yourself of them. That is what Nietzche meant when he said, ‘I have just read Schopenhauer, now I have to get rid of him.’ He knew how insidious other people’s ways could be, particularly those which have the forcefulness of profound experience, if you let them get between you and your own personal vision.”
— Paul Strand, Photographer

Strand_New York 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 anti-Fascist movies. Their most ambitious production, Native Land, which evolved from a Congressional hearing into anti-labor activities, was released in 1941 on the eve of the second World War, at which time its message was considered politically divisive.

Sojourn to France…

In June 1949, Strand left the United States to present Native Land at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in Czechoslovakia. It was a departure that marked the beginning of Strand’s long exile from the prevailing climate of McCarthyism in the United States. The remaining 27 years of his life were spent in Orgeval, France where, despite never learning the language, he maintained an impressive creative life, assisted by his third wife, fellow photographer Hazel Kingsbury Strand.

“The documentary photographer aims his camera at the real world to record truthfulness. At the same time, he must strive for form, to devise effective ways of organizing and using the material. For content and form are interrelated. The problems presented by content and form must be so developed that the result is fundimentally [sic] true to the realities of life as we know it. The chief problem is to find a form that adequately represents the reality.”
— Paul Strand, The Best of Popular Photography by Harvey V. Fondiller

Strand_Portrait, New York The timing of Strand’s departure to France is coincident with the first libel trial of his friend Alger Hiss, with whom he maintained a correspondence until his death. Although he was never officially a member of the Communist Party, many of Strand’s collaborators were either Party members (James Aldridge; Cesare Zavattini) or were prominent socialist writers and activists (Basil Davidson). Many of his friends were also Communists or were suspected of being so (MP DN Pritt; film director Joseph Losey; Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid; actor Alex McCrindle). Strand was also closely involved with Frontier Films, one of more than twenty organizations that were branded as ‘subversive’ and ‘un-American’ by the US Attorney General.

USAPstrand Strand also insisted that his books should be printed in Leipzig, East Germany, even if this meant that they were initially prohibited from the American market on account of their Communist provenance. De-classified intelligence files, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and now lodged at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, reveal that Strand’s movements around Europe were closely monitored by the security services.

His Books…

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, 1955)
  • Tir a’Mhurain / Outer Hebrides (1962)
  • Living Egypt (1969)
  • Ghana: an African portrait (1976)

  

Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Paul Strand that can be found at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Strand

Also, an article on Paul Strand found in: 
Peter Stepan. (2008) 50 Photographers You Should Know. New York: Prestel.