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Paul Strand

American Photographer and Filmmaker

Paul Strand Photo

Born: October 16, 1890 - New York City

Died: March 31, 1976 - Orgeval, Yvelines, France

"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 Signature

Summary of Paul Strand

The history of modern art shows that America offered a fertile environment for some of the most important photographic pioneers of the twentieth century. It was perhaps Paul Strand who carved out a most unique position amongst them. Strand is often discussed as the architect of the so-called Straight Photography; a pure photographic style that utilized large format cameras to record, and bring new perspectives to ordinary or previously ignored subjects in the name of fine art. Strand's 'Straight' aesthetic proved so persuasive in fact that it was adopted by other luminaries in the photographic circle and the 'Straight' ideal formed part of the clarion call for the famous f/64 Group who shared similar ideals with Strand, as did a number of other Straight photographers in the next several decades. Yet Strand was to push forward by extending the 'Straight' aesthetic to the field of documentary and he became highly regarded, and something of a standard-bearer, for those in pursuit of social and political redress through both the still and moving image.

Key Ideas

Strand had come to the view that photographic art should amount to more than 'false' figurative pictures set in idealized settings; this practice, known as Pictorialism, was reviled by modernists. He recognized that the camera held a patent advantage over other plastic arts in that it could freeze a moment in time and space in a way that was impossible to replicate by hand or in real time. His Straight Photography offered then the most unadulterated route to a purer, deeper photographic experience.
Taking inspiration from the formalist, or cubist, paintings of Cézanne, Braque, and Picasso, Strand became fixated on the idea that the photographic image could also be broken up compositionally. Straight Photography used large format cameras to create high contrasts (over shading), flat (or two dimensional) images, semi-abstractions and/or geometric repetitions. The images were reliant on size and context for their full affect and were thus often intended to be hung on the hallowed white walls of dedicated photographic galleries.
Unlike others in his artistic circle who were fully invested in the 'art-for-art's-sake' doctrine, Strand's worldview accommodated the idea that art should be able to engage the spectator spiritually and socially. He is thus associated with the idea that high art can (should indeed) accommodate abstraction and realism simultaneously; that is - in the same photograph or the same documentary film.
Paul Strand Photo

Nathaniel Paul Stransky was born in New York to German-Jewish parents in 1890. Father Jacob Stransky presented his son with his first camera when he was just twelve years old, though his son's interest in photography wasn't to blossom until he had left high school in 1907. Upon graduation Strand joined his father's enamelware import business but he used his spare time to attend a photographic club at the Ethical Culture School run by renowned social documentarian Lewis Hine. Strand decided on his future following a club field trip to Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen's 291 Gallery. Inspired by the visit, Strand was emboldened to seek feedback on his own work from the older Stieglitz who encouraged Strand with "very great criticism" from which he "learned an enormous amount". That visit, along with the influence of Hine's socialist outlook, represented a pivotal moment for Strand who, aged 17, declared his intention to become "an artist in photography".

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