Strands online

25th March 2016

One of the exhibitions in London that I am most looking forward to is the Paul Strand retrospective that has just opened at the V&A (until 3 July). Subtitled ‘Film and Photography for the 20th Century’, the show was organised in 2014 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and features some 200 prints and other objects from the photographer’s long career working around the world. As with so many exhibitions now, a wealth of background information and related material is available online, from the V&A and from many other sources. So here is a selection of readings and viewings as a kind of Strand 101 course to prepare for a visit to South Kensington.

Introduction to the Paul Strand exhibition, with V&A curator Martin Barnes

While the V&A does a good contextualising job with short videos like the above (and two more below), the text and image elements that accompanied the exhibition in Philadelphia, when it was called Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography, are superior. There is a particularly good discussion of Themes and a valuable Chronology. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History has a useful introductory essay.

At lensculture Ben Dickenson Bampton writes about Paul Strand’s significance and interviews Martin Barnes.

First reviews of the show include those by Mark Hudson for the Telegraph (4*, ‘Strand’s slow photography requires a lot of looking from the viewer, but that is more than rewarded’); Martin Gayford in a round-up of photography exhibitions for The Spectator (‘You wonder whether Strand’s work does not really look better in a book, such as the splendid catalogue’); and Lily LeBrun for the Financial Times (‘a quietly compelling retrospective’) which requires non-subscribers to complete an idiotic market research questionnaire.

Manhatta, 1921, directed by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler

Already an established photographer, Strand collaborated in 1920 with painter Charles Sheeler to make a 9-minute ‘cinepoem’ about New York (first shown the following year), which is recognised today as an classic of the American avant-garde. Dave Kehr wrote for The New York Times about the film’s restoration in 2008. The ‘Modern City in Film’ page from History in Class usefully situates Manhatta in a broader cultural context. Pamela Hutchinson writes for the Guardian about Manhatta and other ‘city symphony’ films. For a more detailed discussion of the film, see Chris Penfold’s downloadable paperManhatta: The Art of Visual Metaphor’.

Redes (The Wave), 1936

Strand was one of a number of creative figures who worked on the troubled Mexican film Redes, about the fishing community of Alvarado on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. The print above showcases its often remarkable visual qualities; for background on the production, see the Wikipedia entry on the film and there is further fascinating detail (albeit written from a particular vantage point) at The Ned Scott Archive. The best online article is ‘Redes: el cinema Mexicano’ by Charles Ramírez Berg at The Criterion Collection. In ‘The greatest film score you’ve never heard’ Joe Horowitz hymns the score by Silvestre Revueltas.

Paul Strand – Un Paesa

In a new V&A video curator Martin Barnes visits the Italian town of Luzzara where Paul Strand photographed in the 1940s. For the Guardian Sean O’Hagan speaks with Angela Secchi who at the age of nine posed for Strand.

Paul Strand in the Hebrides

Paul Strand visited South Uist in the Outer Hebrides in 1954 and his visit resulted in the book Tir a’Mhurain. Three of the sitters from the Hebrides series that were photographed as children talk in a V&A video about meeting Strand and of their memories of South Uist in the 1950s. But for some bizarre reason, while I can embed here the two other V&A videos made for the exhibition, this one is protected by privacy settings, and so the best I can do is point you to Vimeo to watch it.

Boyd Tonkin writes for the Independent about Strand’s time on South Uist.

Paul Strand: Under the Dark Cloth, 1989

This is the first part (of six) of John Walker’s 1989 elegant if a little earnest documentary profile of Strand, produced in Canada when many of those who knew Strand were still alive. The impressive cast of contributors includes George O’Keeffe, Fred Zinnemann and Leo Hurwitz.

Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand

Documentation of two 2011 lectures, each nearly an hour long, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, given alongside the exhibition Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand. The first is “Steichen, Stieglitz, and the Art of Change” by Joel Smith, Curator of Photography, Princeton University Art Museum, and in the second Sarah Greenough, Senior Curator of Photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington, speaks about “Stieglitz and Strand: Mentor and Protégé/Friend and Rival”.

By which point, you really should be ready to take yourself off to the V&A.

Lead image: detail of White Fence, Port Kent, New York, © Paul Strand Archive/Aperture Foundation.

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