The V&A present the first retrospective of the American artist Paul Strand (1890-1976) in the UK for over 30 years. The exhibition entitled Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century explores the career of Strand who is considered one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century.
The exhibition includes over 200 objects from vintage photographic prints to films, books, notebooks, sketches and Strand’s own cameras to consider his career over sixty years. Arranged both chronologically and thematically, the exhibition attempts to broaden understanding of Strand’s work outside of America.
The exhibition begins in Strand’s native New York in the 1910s in which his early works illustrate his ability to produce abstract pictures that are similar to photographic contemporaries Alfred Stieglitz and Alvin Langdon Coburn.
Highlights of this section include Wall Street which shows individuals against the backdrop of huge skyscrapers, the abstract White Fence and a series of street portraits made secretly using a camera with a decoy lens, which includes the iconic Blind Woman.
Blind Woman, New York 1916 Paul Strand: © Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation
Over the next six decades, Strand built on his early work of abstraction and street portraits to develop a diverse body of work that covered numerous genres and subjects. His explorations of the American Southwest, Mexico, New England, France, Italy, Scotland, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, and Romania provide fascinating insights into worlds being challenged by conflicts and political change.
The Family, Luzzara (The Lusettis)1953 – 1960s Paul Strand: © Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation
Strand’s increasingly politicised works were at odds with the right-wing American politics of the 1950s and Strand decided to move to France in 1949 where he stayed for the rest of his life.
The move led to a very creative period in the 1950s and 1960s in which he collaborated with leading writers to publish a series of photo books. One of these books Tir a’Mhurain / Outer Hebrides featured his visit to Scotland. The images from the trip illustrate Strand’s ability to create a pictorial record of a place that includes the people, geography and geology. One of the highlights of this section is the photographs of three young children looking out of the window. Remarkably, the people behind the exhibition traced two of the individuals and invited them to the opening of the exhibition.
The exhibition concludes with Strand’s final photographic series exploring his home and garden in Orgeval, France, where he lived until his death in 1976. In many respects, these images contrast with many of the photographer’s earlier works, peace and happiness seems to have replaced the anger of social inequality.
Paul Strand Photographing the Orgeval Garden 1974 Martine Franck: © Martine Franck / Magnum Photos
The exhibition also features Strand’s experiments with the moving image with the film Manhatta (1920 – 21),a collaboration with the painter and photographer Charles Sheeler. Extracts of Strand’s later, more political films, such as Redes (The Wave) and the scarcely-shown documentary Native Land are also shown.
This comprehensive and fascinating exhibition offers an opportunity to reappraise the later work of Paul Strand. The photographer may have made his name with his New York images at the turn of the 20th century, however his work outside of America illustrates an artist constantly experimenting with fine art and documentary photography to produce an extraordinary body of work that still inspires photographers today.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
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