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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Paul Strand

Born: Nathaniel Paul Stransky 
Dates:  1890, 16 October - 1976, 31 March
Born:  US, NY, New York
Active:  US
American photographer who started out as a pictorialist but who evolved into a modernist as his social concerns developed. He produced books based upon his extended visits to Italy, Egypt, Ghana and the Outer Hebrides.
His films included:
Manhatta (1921) - by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler
The Wave (1936)
The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)
The Heart of Spain (1937)
Native Land (1942)
It's Up to You (1943)

Preparing biographies

Biography provided by Focal Press 
Strand believed in the redemptive power of art that is rooted in the reality of everyday life, and was an articulate advocate for a "pure" aesthetic in creative photography. Believing in the "absolute unqualified objectivity" of photography, Strand created tightly structured compositions printed in rich chiaroscuro, innovative for their authenticity and dynamism. His early subjects included street people of New York, nudes of his wife Rebecca, still lifes, landscapes of New Mexico, and experiments with abstraction and movement. By 1916 his work was championed by Steiglitz with solo exhibitions at 291 and publication in Camera Work’s final issues, devoted exclusively to his photographs. An active filmmaker through the 1920s and 1930s, Strand returned to his interest in portraiture by the mid-1940s when his primary goal was to reveal the essential character of his subject with its physical and psychological ties to the larger world. Motivated by his ideology and influenced by his experience in film, he created a series of cultural portraits, exploring both the portfolio and book form: Photographs of Mexico (1940), Time in New England (1950), Un Paese (1955), Tir a’Mhurain: Outer Hebrides (1968), Living Egypt (1969), and Ghana: An African Portrait (1976). He emigrated to France in 1950 in response to the growing oppression of McCarthyism. 
(Author: Garie Waltzer - Photographer and consultant) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

Further research

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Alfred Stieglitz
Paul Strand 
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Visual indexes

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Supplemental information


Paul Strand
American, 1890-1976

Born in New York City in 1890, Paul Strand pioneered the American modernist movement in photography. Strand first studied photography under the tutelage of Lewis Hine, who introduced him to Alfred Stieglitz. By 1909 Strand had set up his own commercial studio. During this time he did work on the side in a pictorialist style that was exhibited at the New York Camera Club. Strand's shift from soft-focus pictorialism to a sharp-focus style was a gradual one. During the years 1915-1917, he still made soft-focus images, but began to make more modernist, abstracted compositions. Stieglitz championed the photographer's work by devoting the last two issues of Camera Work to Strand and giving him his own show at the gallery 291. By the late teens and early 1920s Strand had abandoned pictorialism altogether, becoming the leading American modernist photographer along with Alfred Stieglitz. Influenced by modernist trends in other media, Strand made abstracted close-up views of nature as well as sharply defined urban images.
During World War I Strand served as an x-ray technician, then returned to the U.S. to work as a freelance filmmaker. In the 1930s he headed to Mexico to work as both a cinematographer and photographer and would later publish his work in 1940 in The Mexican Portfolio. By 1943 Strand had abandoned motion pictures and completely devoted himself to still photography. During the 1950s and 60s he traveled throughout Europe and Ghana, making several books, Un Paese, Tir a Murhain and Ghana: An African Portrait. He was honored for his work by many institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Aperture, ASMP, the Metropolitan in New York, and Los Angeles County Museum. Strand died at his home in France in 1976.
For more information, see Strand's A Retrospective Monograph: The Years 1915-1946, Aperture, 1972.
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 

Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.] Go to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography. Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.191 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.492-493 
• Coke, Van Deren with Diana C. Du Pont 1986 Photography: A Facet of Modernism (New York: Hudson Hills Press, The San Francisco Museum of Art) p.185 
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.229 [Includes a well written short biography on Paul Strand with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.468 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.246-247 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.262 
• Koetzle, Hans-Michael 2002 Photo Icons: The Story Behind the Pictures - Volume 1 (Koln: Taschen) [This book discusses one photograph "Blind Woman (1916)" by Paul Strand in considerable detail. An excellent source for a detailed analysis.] 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.162-163, 164, 178 
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.88-91] 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Paul Strand are included in this classic history.] 
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.96 [Analyzes a single photograph by Paul Strand.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Paul Strand was represented in 82 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
Library of Congress, Washington, USA 
Approximate number of records: ? 
Note: A single record may contain more than one photograph.
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The wit and wisdom.

"It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness."
"Objectivity is of the very essence of photography, its contribution and at the same time its limitation… Honesty no less than intensity of vision is the prerequisite of a living expression. The fullest realization of this is accomplished without tricks of processes or manipulation, through the use of straight photographic methods."
"Stieglitz‘s photographs of things and people - of sun and cloud shapes - become equivalents of a deeply critical yet affirmative inquiry into a contemporary life. They are objective and beautiful conclusions of that inquiry."
"The artist‘s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep."
"The full potential power of every medium is dependent upon the purity of its use, and all attempts at mixture end in such dead things as the color-etching, the photographic painting and in photography, the gum-print, oil print, etc., in which the introduction of hand work and manipulation is merely the expression of an impotent desire to paint."
"Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees."
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