A new permanent collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Paul Strand’s black and white images still shine a light on life’s gray areas.
The Family, Luzzara (The Lusettis), 1953, by Paul Strand, part of the “Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography” exhibition.
With an archive of some 4,000 Paul Strand prints, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has long been the go-to for folks interested in an iconic, and iconoclastic, photographer who helped establish the medium as an art form in the early 20th century. This October, it’s the vaults, so to speak, that present a sampling of 250 of the finest prints—along with Strand films like Manhatta (1921) and Native Land (1942)—culled from a career that spanned the 1910s through the 1960s. Be sure to seek out Blind Woman, New York; Wall Street, New York; and The Family, Luzzara as representations of Strand’s facility with portraiture, geometric composition, and sense of place.
“Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography” (October 21 through January 4, 2015) also showcases a dozen works from Strand contemporaries, including photographer Alfred Stieglitz and painters Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Sheeler, and Arthur Dove, alongside Strand artifacts like correspondence, cameras, and scrapbooks.
“Strand is really important for two reasons,” says Peter Barberie, the PMA’s curator of photographs. “By exploring new ways to use the camera—from experimenting with abstractions of furniture to going out on the streets of New York and capturing very deliberate but still fairly candid views of the figures he encountered—he thrust photography into the world of modern art.
“He applied his whole life to the medium,” Barberie continues. “As we see his work changing, he gives us an unparalleled portrait of the 20th century.”
Although he spent his early career in New York, Strand’s peripatetic leanings eventually took him through the American Southwest, Europe, Morocco, Egypt, and elsewhere—trips that he thoroughly documented. This installation is divided into three broad sections, starting with those early modernist works, before moving on to his time in the Southwest and Mexico. The exhibition concludes with a look at Strand’s later projects, including his return to New York, renewed interest in film, and his photographic suites of New England, Italy, and Ghana. “Strand called these projects, six of which became books, his ‘portraits of places,’” says Barberie. “They’re the perfect representation of his overall method: that dedication to taking your time, doing research, and getting to know your subject really well.” 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 215-763-8100