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Paul Strand at the V&A

I visited the V&A (29 May) to see the exhibition, Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century. Unfortunately no photography was allowed, so I have no personal visual record of the exhibition space.

Source: vam.ac.uk
Source: vam.ac.uk

However, the V&A’s website features some images of the exhibition space. The website says this of the exhibition:

[Strand] was one of the greatest and most influential photographers of the 20th century whose images have defined the way fine art and documentary photography is understood and practiced today.

The exhibition presents around 200 objects spanning Strand’s entire career, including his breakthrough trials in abstraction and candid street portraits, close-ups of natural and machine forms, and extended explorations of the American Southwest, Mexico, New England, France, Italy, Scotland, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, and Romania.

Strand (1890-1976) was a one-time protegé of Alfred Stieglitz (see EYV blog post here), who we hear (from Georgia O’Keefe)  in the documentary Paul Strand: Under the Darkcloth, pushed Strand to find something new to the pictorialist style that was popular at the end of the 19th Century. This perhaps, pushed him to make the breakthrough work mentioned by the V&A.

A few of my notes as I viewed the exhibition:

  • Use of different print types has an impact on the feel of the B&W photos: platinum prints with their bronze hue and silver gelatin (which seemed to be predominate in later work), with its cooler feel. Is there a digital equivalent to these tones?
  • I note that Strand used of decoy lens on camera for street photos, feeling that as long as he photographed with integrity, no harm was done to his subjects.
  • From 1919, Strand used 8×10 camera for nature observations. Long exposure to soak up details. ‘Meditative exploration of nature’. This made me think about stopping down with a DSLR and using a tripod to capture details in nature – not something I generally do.
  • Framing – I noticed that Strand’s main subject is always clear in his compositions, but the intrusion of incoherent details in scenes adds to photographic qualities (referring to urban photos).
  • New Mexico 1930 – ‘enjoyed the challenge of making small pictures of big subjects’
  • Fine detail in observational prints draws in the eye. No shallow DOF. Straight photography.
  • Portraits close-cropped.
  • Mentioned wanted works to reach larger audience, but found cost difficult to manage. Later, from 1945 used photo books.
  • I didn’t previously appreciate that Strand lived in France for last 26 years of his life. Continuing to work on meditative studies in his garden until his death.

I found Strand’s work inspirational – the care, skill and craft in making his photos is clear to see. To make art like this, there can be no rushing!

Some bulky photo books of Strand’s work were available in the V&A bookshop (not good for the train journey back to Yorkshire!). I’ve instead ordered a used copy of Paul Strand: Sixty Years of Photographs (Aperture Monograph), from the USA via Amazon (surprisingly less expensive than buying in the UK, even with postage!). I’ll study Strand’s photos in more depth once the book arrives.


Atget Photography [website]. Paul Strand. Available from: http://www.atgetphotography.com/The-Photographers/Paul-Strand.html [accessed 3.6.15]

YouTube [website]. Paul Strand: Under the Darkcloth. Directed by Walker J (1989) Available from: https://youtu.be/dP5YTqqoAqA [accessed 3.6.15]

V&A [website]. Paul Strand an Introduction. Available from: https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/paul-strand-an-introduction [accessed 3.6.15]

Wallpaper.com [website]. Photography and Film of the 20th Century. Available from: http://www.wallpaper.com/art/paul-strand-photography-and-film-for-the-20th-century-on-show-at-v-and-a-london [accessed 3.6.15]

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