On Photography: Paul Strand
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On Photography: Paul Strand, 1890-1976

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

Paul Strand has been called the biggest, widest, most commanding talent in the history of American photography. He was born in the midst of one of the most exciting and innovative periods in the history of art. Painters and sculptors were claiming the turn-of-the-century by rejecting the traditional and academic. By combining what he knew as art, with his love of the camera, Strand claimed his own place in photographic history by embracing similar ideas of the painters and sculptors, but applied it to photography and its uniqueness. Thus, he created a style of photography that was both direct and dynamic.

– Lori Oden for the International Photography Hall of Fame

Early times

Paul Strand with camera in 1974. Photo by Maritne Franck.
Paul Strand with Camera 1974. Photo by Martine Franck

Paul Strand received his first camera a gift from his father. He was 12 years old.

While in school, his class visited Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery where he was introduced to Pictorialism. The movement involved photographers — Stieglitz, Steichen, Kasebier and painters like Picasso. His instructor, Lewis Hine, shared with Strand his belief that using a camera “forced youngsters to recognize what is good in composition by selection from the infinite objects about them.” After graduation in 1909, he joined his father’s import business. Strand continued his photography as a member of the Camera Club of New York.

Two years later, he began his own photography business. He worked in the soft focus style. He also experimented with gum printing. His work began to encompass geometric shapes as well as patterns and spaces. This departure from the Pictorial style earned him publication in Stieglitz’s Camera Work and an exhibition at Gallery 291. A year later the final issue of Camera Work was published featuring Paul Strand’s work exclusively. It showcased his new thinking on photography.

Film

Strand was also interested in filmmaking. His first film was titled New York, The Magnificent. He eventually launched Frontier Films producing Native Land and The Plow that Broke the Plains.

Legacy

Paul Strand’s vision of photography has him considered as the creator of modern American photography. He was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame in 1984.

Strand’s contributions to photography as well as his exhibitions are in Lori Oden’s induction biography for IPHF.

Here are essays by Stieglitz, Steichen and Scheeler on Pictorialism from the Metropolitan Museum.

Read more mini-biographies of influential photographers on Photofocus.

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