PHILADELPHIA, PENN. — The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) is presenting the first major retrospective in nearly 50 years to be devoted to Paul Strand (American, 1890–1976), one of the greatest photographers in the history of the medium. “Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography” explores the remarkable evolution of Strand’s work, from the breakthrough moment in the second decade of the Twentieth Century when he brought his art to the brink of abstraction to his broader vision of the place of photography in the modern world, which he would develop over the course of a career that spanned six decades.
On view through January 4 in the Dorrance Galleries, this exhibition examines every aspect of Strand’s work, from his early efforts to establish photography as a major independent art form and his embrace of filmmaking as a powerful medium capable of broad public impact to his masterful extended portraits of people and places that would often take compelling shape in the form of printed books. “Paul Strand” celebrates the recent acquisition of more than 3,000 prints from the Paul Strand Archive, which has made the Philadelphia Museum of Art the world’s largest and most comprehensive repository of Strand’s work.
The last major retrospective dedicated to Strand was organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1971. Born in New York City, Strand first studied with the social documentary photographer Lewis Hine at New York’s Ethical Culture School from 1907 to 1909, and subsequently became close to the pioneering photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Strand fused these powerful influences and explored the Modernist possibilities of the camera more fully than any other photographer before 1920.
In the 1920s, Strand tested the camera’s potential to exceed human vision, making intimate, detailed portraits, and recording the nuances of machine and natural forms. He also created portraits, landscapes and architectural studies on various travels to the Southwest, Canada, and Mexico. The groups of pictures of these regions, in tandem with his documentary work as a filmmaker in the 1930s, convinced Strand that the medium’s great purpose lay in creating broad and richly detailed photographic records of specific places and communities. For the rest of his career he pursued such projects in New England, France, Italy, the Hebrides, Morocco, Romania, Ghana and other locales, producing numerous celebrated books.
Together, these later series form one of the great photographic statements about modern experience.
Strand’s career spanned a period of incredible revolutionary change. Always motivated by a strong sense of social purpose, he came to believe that depicting the human struggle, both economic and political, was central to his responsibility as an artist.
“Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography” is curated by Peter Barberie, the Brodsky curator of photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the assistance of Amanda N. Bock, project assistant curator of photographs. Barberie said, “Whether he was printing in platinum, palladium, gelatin-silver, making films, or preparing books, Strand was … a great modern artist whose eloquent voice addressed the widest possible audience, and this voice continues to resonate today.”
The exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly catalog published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, featuring 245 plates and essays by Barberie and Bock. The catalog also includes the transcript of a roundtable conversation about Strand’s later projects and the broader photographic culture of the 1950s–70s, and a comprehensive annotated chronology of Strand’s life and work compiled by Samantha Gainsburg.
The international tour, organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE, will include the Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland, March 7–May 17; Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid, Spain, June 3–August 30; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, March 19–July 3, 2016.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street.
For general information, www.philamuseum.org or 215-763-8100.