Paul Strand

I admire the photographic instinct and intent of Paul Strand. I also admire Lewis Hine, who was Strand’s first photography teacher and introduced Strand to the idea of using photography to better humankind.  It’s also interesting that Strand embraced other mediums such as film. (How neat would it be to have the great Lewis Hine as a photography teacher?) Paul Strand got quite an education at the Ethical Culture School. After graduating from this institution he happened to be part of the New York Camera Club another member of which was Alfred Stieglitz. The Photo-Secession movement had just begun also. In 1911 Strand began to work closely with Stieglitz who was a proponent of Straight Photography. Strand’s photographs appeared in Stieglitz’s publication, Camera Work, in 1916 and Stieglitz declared, “Strand is without doubt the most important photographer developed in this country since Alvin Langdon Coburn.” Strand’s work along with that of Edward Weston and Stieglitz helped define American modernism and the elegant photographic print now carried incredible value.

After viewing an exhibition at Stieglitz’s at Gallery 291 of avant-garde European art Strand began studying cubism and abstract art. In 1916 at his family lake house he began to experiment with abstraction. These became his first significant  abstractions made with his camera.

Abstraction, Twin Lakes, Connecticut, 1916

Strand often visited the Lower East Side immigrant slums called Five Points (this particular location is featured in the film, Gangs of New York, staring Leonardo DiCaprio). He would approach a scene with a camera and fake lens (to distract his subject or trick them perhaps), the real lens would be concealed beneath his arm, pointing toward his subject. He was often able to take his photograph unharmed, the subject unaware. Strand sought to capture classic New Yorkers of his time and catalog the diversity of humanity before him:

“I like to photograph people who have strength and dignity in their faces; whatever life has done to them, it hasn’t destroyed them. I gravitate towards people like that.”

A good example of this is Blind, 1916

Like Lewis Hine, Strand sought to capture the crush of cultures that inhabited his urban landscape and document their struggles and poverty. “It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness.”

In the 1920’s Strand took his photography to another level in an effort to describe the movement of the city and became involved in documentary filmmaking beginning with the short film Manhatta (composed of stills and motion film). From 1920 to 1932 Strand made numerous photographs of his wife, Rebecca Strand. Later, Strand moved to France and studied architecture, landscapes, and portraiture.


Who I’m Admiring: Margaret Bourke-White

“The camera is a remarkable instrument. Saturate yourself with your subject and the camera will all but take you by the hand.”

Margaret Bourke White peck dam

Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White is a woman of firsts. She was the first photographer hired by Fortune magazine, the first to have a photo on the cover of Life magazine, the first American photojournalist granted entry to Russia, and the first to document concentration camps at the end of WWII. She is an amazing woman. She often worked under difficult circumstances and is known for her courage and willingness to do anything to get the shot. During her first assignment for Fortune magazine she photographed Swift & Co., a hog processing plant. The conditions were bad due to the stench and blood and her co-worker could not continue. She finished the story {having created the fist photo essay} and left her camera equipment to be burned. She went on to be the first foreign correspondent to cover the start of WWII. She went to India and Pakistan and photographed Gandhi before his assassination. She covered Korea and apartheid in South Africa. She had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Like Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke-White is a giant in the world of photography. She was a pioneer of photojournalism, a humanitarian and one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century. Two recent films covering Bourke-White are Double Exposure: The Story of Margaret Bourke-White and the film Gandhi.

“I have always thought that if I could turn back the pages of history and photograph one man, my choice would be Moses.”

– Margaret Bourke-White, Portrait of Myself by Margaret Bourke-White