Paul Strand at the V&A – A Study Visit

Exhibition: Photography and Film for the 20th Century
Date: Saturday 2 July 2016 @ 11am

Study visit number three took me to the V&A to see Paul Strand’s photographs spanning 50 years from the 1920s through to the 1970s – Photography and Film for the 20th Century. Curated by Martin Barnes.

Paul Strand (b: 1890 d: 1976) “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.”.

All the photographs exhibited are black and white. So too are the 3 films in the exhibition, the earliest of which, Manhattan he filmed with Charles Sheeler in 1921 and the other two, Redes (1936) and the Native Land (1942) were set to music without dialogue.

Strand used a camera with a fake lens on the side, this was so his subjects did not know he was taking a photograph of them and the results he found were more honest.  He used a prism on his camera right up until he went to Italy, at which point his photography became more direct.

The exhibition in the main covered his travels to: American Southwest and Mexico (1920s/1930s), New England (1945), France (1950), Italy, Scotland (1954), Egypt and Morocco (1965), Ghana (1963), and Romania (1960s).  He liked to embed himself within a place so he could capture the real essence of the place and it’s people.  His wife Hazel traveled with him and the exhibition had a map of Ghana where she plotted the route taken, which was up the gold coast and the wealthier regions.

As as aside, James Barnor (b: 1929), a Ghanaian photographer now based in London, who is only now receiving recognition for his photography, met Paul Strand.  They both took photographs in the same regions of Ghana and although their photography is quite different it makes for an interesting comparison of a place and its people.

The exhibition runs pretty much in chronological order; ending with his later years where he retired to France and took to taking photographs in his garden, however, compared to his other works this was not his best period.

You can see throughout his work that he had preferences e.g. using a frame within a frame, liked to photograph still life especially in nature, used deep depth of field, his portraits had a similar composition (liked to photograph people central to the frame without expression) and used light and shadow to enhance.

The period of his work which I enjoyed most in the exhibition was in New England.  “Strand found that he was able to satisfy his desire to reach larger audiences by presenting his prints in the form of books.  In 1945 the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York opened the first major retrospective of Strand’s work.  His work on the exhibition led to a book project titles ‘Time in New England’.”

There was a passage of a book at the end of the exhibition from which I made a note of a couple of the points made which resonated with me:

1 – “selection becomes the arbiter of content” – I picked this out because as part of our course we are asked to select photographs to submit for assessment and it is these selections that we are judged on.  So the selection process is a really important one for success.

2 – “evolution itself evolves” – this I thought was interesting because we accept things change but with every day that passes a new piece of information is presented to us so where we thought we were heading is revised.  The world is in constant flux and it’s important not to continue doing something just because you have always done it that way.  As new information presents itself, reflection and change should be natural steps in the process.

I’m not sure I’ve done his work justice on my blog but hopefully all the links and references will.

References:

Wikipedia. 2016. Paul Strand – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Strand.

Vimeo. 2016. Paul Strand – An Introduction on Vimeo. [ONLINE] Available at:https://vimeo.com/159045116. (see above)

The Guardian. 2016. I posed for Paul Strand: the day the great photographer walked into my village in Italy | Art and design | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/mar/16/i-posed-for-paul-strand-the-day-the-great-photographer-walked-into-my-village-in-italy.

Fotomuseum Winterthur. 2016. Paul Strand after Margaret Mead – Still searching – Fotomuseum Winterthur. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.fotomuseum.ch/en/explore/still-searching/articles/26986_paul_strand_after_margaret_mead.

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