I visited the Victoria and Albert museum to see Paul Strands photos. Needless to say they are superb. My favorite is still “Wall Street 1915″(1). It was on display at Thomas Danby College in Leeds when I was there as a teenager. I like it because it is so stark but the more you look the more you see.
The exhibition helped me understand what the different formats mean to camera sizes. Easy to understand when you see the cameras and plates you can’t think of carrying these cameras around and capturing the scenes they caught.
On my last assignment my tutor advised me that a couple of my prints were flat. After seeing this exhibition I understand what was meant. In my striving to get everything in focus I had flattened the image. Paul Strand was not afraid to have total dark areas they add depth and interest to the print.
The exhibition followed Paul Strands life through his work. USA, Mexico, the highlands of Scotland, Romania and Ghana finishing in his Garden.All the shots were striking and clear from front to back this is amazing when some of the shots are over a hundred years old.
All of the different project areas told a story or had a thread. Be it the violence in Ghana or the changing work in Scotland these threads only make the shots more rewarding to view.
The only shot I couldn’t get on with was the shot of a Skeleton on a Swaztika. It is very forced and looks like it has been manipulated it hasn’t PS had the Swastica made by a welder friend. Still one out of this number of shots is amazing plus 1938 was a time for Swastikas. But technically it is still a fabulous shot. Put it in context of time it is an artistic comment on the dark times on the horizon. He was possibly commenting on the threat to the world at a time when America was not wanting to get involved with Europes wars. Substitute a cross for the Swastica and you have a classic crucifix, so perhaps he was referring to the sacrifice needed for good to triumph over evil.
However he could have perceived the danger heading for the world and just wanted to provoke thought. He certainly achieved that.
There are two short films one taken in the late 1800s of Manhattan and is obviously someone experimenting with new technology. To a documentary with script which looks like a poor school project. Paul Strand was definitely better at stills than moving images in my opinion his films are too staged. However he was brave enough to experiment with new techniques.
Seeing his full body of work it mirrors his life with verve and vigour as a young man flying off around the world looking for and documenting issues. However he finishes in his garden like most of us humans content with his lot.
The constant throughout his life’s work is the quality and the attention to detail. One cabinet held a notebook of a PS visit to Ghana. The detail in the notebook is outstanding. Strand must have spent a long time planning, his drawings mirror the photos exactly. This detail makes for a clear record you could take the notes and replicate the shots exactly, today!
The exhibition was presented clearly with a journey to follow his life and work which is well punctuated with points of interest and ends with some beautiful photos of his garden. This is a beautiful exhibition.
(1). Barberie, P. (2014). Paul Strand. Photography and film for the twentieth century. New Haven: Yale University Press.
(2). Grant, T. (2016). Goodreads. [online] Goodreads.com. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/411708.Ted_Grant.
(3). Paul Strand at the V&A. (2016). .