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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Paul Strand

I happened on a copy of Paul Strand: An American Vision at the library.  There is quite a lot of text by Sara Greenough, so I didn't take the time to read it on the spot.  At home, I looked for the book on Amazon and was surprised to find a very good hard copy at $20, so of course I had to get it.


There are a lot of books similar to this, some from Aperture as well.  This one is distinguished by the lengthy appreciation by Greenough, and by the inclusion of many letters from Strand in which he talked about his work and that of his contemporaries.  The photos in this book were produced from the original negatives by Richard Benson, and published in a joint venture by Aperture and the National Gallery of Art.

It has always seemed to me that Strand was the most revolutionary photographic artist of all time.  Just look at the 1915-1916 dates on his early work and compare it to what else was being done at the time.  Stieglitz recognized the importance of Strand's vision immediately and broadcast that message widely through Camera Work.  What seems equally surprising is how long Strand's totally new way of portraying the world with photography took to seep into the popular consciousness.  If you look at photo magazines other than Camera Work, you see them promoting the same old last-Century style of work for a couple decades after Strand turned the world upside down.  Other giants, like Weston, Cunningham and Rodchenko, came along and gradually reformed people's ideas of how the world may be looked at, but I don't recall seeing any of those later photographers giving Strand the credit he really deserves.

Greenough alludes to the Strand's obsession with quality and makes a nod toward his techniques in mentioning his early preference for platinum prints.  Of course, this being a book about Art, one mustn't mention any details of technique or equipment.  Fortunately, such facts can be found easily in Strand's case with a little searching.  The George Eastman House web site has a whole page devoted to Strand's techniques and equipment.  As might be expected he started off shooting glass plates; his cameras included an 8x10 Korona view camera and a 4x5 or 5x7 Graphflex.  There is a claim there that Strand ultimately did some work with 35mm, but I have not seen confirmation of that and am doubtful he could have brought himself down to that format outside of his motion picture work.  A posting on Photo.net reports the existence of a video showing Strand using a Mamiya 330 twin-lens reflex in his later years in France.

Update:
Manhatta  is a film made by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler in 1921.  The text which appears on screen is taken from the writings of Walt Whitman.

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