Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century
19 March – 3 July 2016
This first UK retrospective devoted to the pioneering American photographer and filmmaker since his death.
After being introduced to the modernist works of Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen on a school trip in his late teens, Paul Strand decided he would devote himself to photography. From his early career he was highly experimental; breaking away from the Impressionist-inspired soft focus aesthetic that was commonplace in the early 1900s, he fused documentary with fine art practice to capture New York's financial district, wharves, railyards and factories in a radical abstract style. He was the first to achieve such an effect with a camera.
Between the 1930-60s Strand travelled extensively. He befriended a host of international writers who he worked with to create a series of photo books focused on social documentary – for example La France de Profil, made in collaboration with the poet Claude Roy, and Un Paese produced alongside Neo-Realist writer Cesare Zavattini. The latter included one of Strand’s most celebrated images, The Family, Luzzara, capturing a strong matriarch flanked by her brood of five sons in the visibly bleak environment that characterised rural Italy following the Second World War.
In later decades the photographer went onto document the meetings, rallies and markets of Egypt, Morocco and Ghana, as they underwent transformative political change. By contrast his final set of works show his home and garden in Orgeval, France, where he lived with his third wife Hazel until his death in 1976. They are a touching counterpoint to his previous projects, offering a rare glimpse into his own domestic happiness.
This exhibition at the V&A brings together over 200 highlights from across his incredible 60 year career, including vintage photographic prints, films, notebooks, sketches and his personal cameras.
Blind Woman is an example of one of the unsettlingly candid street portraits Strand made secretly using a camera with a decoy lens.