Paul Strand was born on the 16th of October 1890, in New York City to Bohemian parents. In his late teens Strand was a student of renowned documentary photographer Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School. It was while on a field trip in this class that Strand first visited the 291 art gallery – operated by Stieglitz and Edward Steichen – where exhibitions of work by forward-thinking modernist photographers and painters would move Strand to take his photographic hobby more seriously.
Alfred Stieglitz himself would later promote Strand’s work in the 291 gallery and in his photography publication Camera Works. Some of this early work, like the well-known “Wall Street,” experimented with formal abstractions. Other of Strand’s works reflect his interest in using the camera as a tool for social reform. He was one of the founders of the Photo League, an association of photographers who advocated using their art to promote social and political causes.
Over the next few decades, Strand worked in motion pictures as well as still photography. His first film was Manhatta (1921), also known as New York the Magnificent, a silent film showing the day-to-day life of New York City made with painter/photographer Charles Sheeler. Manhatta includes a shot similar to Strand’s famous Wall Street (1915) photograph. Strand married the painter Rebecca Salsbury in 1922. He photographed Rebecca Salsbury Strand frequently, sometimes with uncommonly close compositions. After divorcing Salsbury, Strand married Virginia Stevens in 1935. In 1932–5, he lived in Mexico and worked on Redes (1936), a film commissioned by the Mexican government, released in the US as The Wave. Other films he was involved with were the documentary The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936) and the pro-union, anti-fascist Native Land (1942).
In 1949, Strand divorced Virginia and left the United States to present Native Land at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in Czechoslovakia. The remaining 27 years of his life were spent in Orgeval, France where, despite never learning the language, he maintained an impressive creative life, assisted by his third wife, fellow photographer Hazel Kingsbury Strand to whom he remained married until his death in 1976. Although Strand is best known for his early abstractions, his return to still photography in this later period produced some of his most significant work in the form of six book ‘portraits’ of place: Time in New England (1950), La France de Profil (1952), Un Paese (featuring photographs of Luzzara and the Po River Valley in Italy, 1955), Tir a’Mhurain / Outer Hebrides (1962), Living Egypt (1969) and Ghana: an African portrait (1976).
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