History of Photography



Introduction  
History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary









 

 


THE STORY BEHIND THE PICTURES 1827-1991
 
 

 

1   Nicephore Niepce. View from the Study Window, 1827

2   Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. Boulevard du Temple, 1838

3   Eugene Durieu/Eugene Delacroix. Nude from Behind, ca. 1853

4   Duchenne de Boulogne. Contractions musculaires, 1856

5   Auguste Rosalie Bisson. The Ascent of Mont Blanc, 1862

6   Nadar. Sarah Bernhardt, ca. 1864

7   Francois Aubert. Emperor Maximilian's Shirt, 1867

8   Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi. Dead Communards, 1871

9   Maurice Guibert. Toulouse-Lautrec in His Studio, ca. 1894

10 Max Priester/Willy Wilcke. Bismarck on his Deathbed, 1898

11 Heinrich Zille. The Wood Gatherers, 1898

12 Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage, 1907

13 Lewis Hine. Girl Worker in a Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908

14 August Sander. Young Farmers, 1914

15 Paul Strand. Blind Woman, 1916

16 Man Ray. Noire et blanche, 1926

17 Andre Kertesz. Meudon, 1928

18 Robert Capa. Spanish Loyalist, 1936

19 Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

20 Horst P. Horst. Mainbocher Corset, 1939

21 Henri Cartier-Bresson. Germany, 1945

22 Richard Petersen. View from the Dresden City Hall Tower, 1945

23 Robert Doisneau. The Kiss in Front of City Hall, 1950

24 Dennis Stock. James Dean on Times Square, 1955

25 Bert Stern. Marilyn's Last Sitting, 1962

26 Gerard Malanga. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, 1966

27 Helmut Newton. They're Coming!, 1981

28 Sandy Skoglund. Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981

29 Robert Mapplethorpe. Lisa Lyon, 1982

30 Joel-Peter Witkin. Un Santo Oscuro, 1987

31 Sebastiao Salgado. Kuwait, 1991

 

see also:

STRAND PAUL





Chapter 15

 


1916
 


Paul Strand

 


Blind Woman
 


Manhattan People

"Strand is simply the biggest, widest, most commanding talent in the history of American photography" -thus has Susan Sontag described her countryman Paul Strand. Especially in his early work, he transcended the limits of pictorialism and thus prepared the way for modern photography in the USA.

 

New York, autumn 1915. A young man enters Gallery 291 on Fifth Avenue. This is not his first visit: he had become acquainted with the legendary gallery while he was a student at the Ethical Culture School, and perhaps even now he might have been thinking of his former teacher, Lewis Hine, who had initiated the class excursion of young amateur photographers to the gallery. Decades later, Paul Strand would report that Hine: "took us all down to a place called the Photo-Secession Gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue, where there was an exhibition of photographs. I walked out of that place that day feeling, This is what I want to do in my life... That was a decisive day."

In 1915, Paul Strand was twenty-six years old. He had graduated from the Ethical Culture School, and was earning a living in his father's import business. In addition, he already spent a Wanderjahr in Europe and was now a member of the New York Camera Club. He was sure of his goal, but he had not succeeded in establishing himself as a commercial photographer or through his free-lance work. He had returned from Europe with well-composed landscapes in the painterly tradition of pictorialist photography. With his Garden of Dreams/Temple of Love (1911) he had won praise from fellow amateurs at exhibits in New York and London. Realizing that such artistic ventures were hardly sufficient, the self-critical Strand sought advice from recognized exponents of artistic photography such as Clarence H. White and Gertrude Kasebier. "They were very sweet to me as a young fellow, but not very helpful." It was in fact Alfred Stieglitz himself, the great apologist of artistic photography In the USA, who became an important mentor and helpful adviser to the young man. "I used to go and see Stieglitz about once every two years. I did not go there to bother him unless I had something to show. He was a great critic for me." In this autumn of 1915, Strand had reached that point once again. He selected a number of more recent works to show Stieglitz. Since his last visit, the young photographer had visited the path-breaking Armory Show with works representing the European modern and had furthermore acquainted himself with the art of van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, and Braque. Influenced by Cubism as well as the documentary projects of Lewis Hine and the advice of Alfred Stieglitz, who was himself coming ever nearer to a straight photography, Strand had turned to urban themes and a more rigorous way of seeing. Of course, by this time, cityscapes were nothing new to photography; one has only to look as the works of Karl Struss (New York, 1912), for example, or Alvin Langdon Coburn (House of a Thousand Windows, 1912), or Alfred Stieglitz (The City of Ambition, 1910). Strand, however, was the first to create a valid synthesis of contemporary themes and artistically mature vision appropriate to the photographic medium. His pictures, as Maria Morris Hambourg once stated: "were tough, surprising, and had intimate weight." We have a pretty clear idea just which motifs Paul Strand presented to his mentor on this autumn day in 1915: Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, City Hall Park, and Wait Street. And we also know Stieglitz's reaction. "We were alone in the Gallery," recalled Paul Strand. "He was very enthusiastic and said: 'You've done something new for photography and I want to show these.'" Stieglitz kept his word; shortly thereafter, in March 1916, Paul Strand had his first exhibit at 291 - the gallery that one can justly claim to be the most important forum of the Avant-garde in the USA. For Strand, it was, so to speak, the breakthrough. For the art of the camera in the USA, in the words of Helmut Gernsheim, it was the beginning of a new epoch: the "era of modern photography."





Paul Strand
( 1890 – 1976)
Blind Woman
1916

 

 

The search for the greatest degree of objectivity

Europe was already caught in the throes of the war in which the USA be-came an active participant in 1917. The mood of the country had already begun to change: out of the dismay, there emerged a growing self-confidence. "In the ferment of World War I, there was also a great deal of unrest in America," recalled Paul Strand. "It was a time of new thinking and new feeling about various forms of culture, sharpened later by the catastrophic Crash of 1929." We can only speculate about what might have inspired Strand in this age of intellectual upheaval to begin portraying anonymous people in the streets of New York. He himself always defended the series, which many consider his best work, with the desire to photograph people "without their being aware of it." But it is hardly imaginable, according to the critic Milton W. Brown "that this series of memorable and psychologically probing studies could have been the by-product of a technical gimmick." Are these photographs indeed concerned merely with a cheap effect? Insofar as Strand in a sense "stole" his portraits, had he not freed himself from traditional portrait standards: interaction, visual dialogue, the possibility of setting one's own scene? What is certain is that Strand, with the help of specially fitted cameras (initially with a side-mounted objective, later with a prism lens) was largely able to photograph without being noticed. And this anonymity also became the guarantee of what he was meanwhile striving for: the greatest possible degree of objectivity. But Strand was neither concerned with creating a sociogram of New York society (the series is too small in scope), nor did he make a claim to journalism (for this, the images are too indefinite in their historical context). Strand sought and found characters of everyday life, drew simple people into the center of his photographic attention, thus making them the unconscious 'object' of a psychological investigation. Strand opened his cycle in Five Points, the slum where Jacob Rus had also worked. He photographed on the Lower East Side and around Washington Square. Seventeen of Strand's portraits have survived, including Man in a Derby and, precisely, Blind Woman, a picture that Walker Evans termed brutal, but in a positive, cathartic sense: Nothing, according to Evans, had as great an influence on his own photography as Paul Strand's work. In a somewhat exaggerated comparison, one might say that just as the First World War caused a break in painting - a turning away from the pictorial aesthetic that had exhausted itself in formalism - Strand single-handedly brought about a new era in the USA with the Cubist-inspired structure of his photographs: machines pulled into the frame, unposed portraits. Strand's work, according to Alfred Stieglitz, is 'pure': "It does not reply upon tricks of process... The work is brutally direct. Devoid of all flim-flam; devoid of trickery and of any 'ism'; devoid of all attempt to mystify an ignorant public, including the photographers themselves. These photographs are the direct expression of today."





Paul Strand
( 1890 – 1976)
Man in a Derby
1917

 

Excluding all situational or anecdotal perspective

 

A blind woman with a cardboard sign hanging from her neck. What is more disturbing here - the obvious physical deficit, or the written notice calling attention to it? In one sense, the picture is tautological, but there is a system to the tautology. In a hectic age, and specifically in a metro-polis, anyone wanting to call attention to her infirmity must provide it with an exclamation point. Cynical as that may sound, the cynicism redounds upon the head of the society that gives the handicapped no other choice but to assure survival through public demonstration of her 'fault' - in other words, to make capital out of the infirmity. Stanley Burns in A Morning's Work calls attention to the dramatic situation of amputees and other cripples - for example all those injured in work-related accidents -in America at the turn of the twentieth century. Many of these people were forced to earn their income by selling their own photographic portraits, the public always took an interest, according to Burns, in the mis-fortune of others. Whether the blind woman is in fact selling something or only holding her hand out we don't know. The photographer intentionally kept the frame of the photograph small, thus excluding all situational or anecdotal perspective - an approach which at the same time eliminates any feel of pity such as otherwise might be aroused by the sight of a forlorn blind soul amid the stone canyons of New York. The photograph decisively turns its back on all that is sentimental or maudlin. The picture is also 'straight' in its reduction to only a few determining formal elements. There is for example the simple sign, dominating the composition like a title added to the photograph and reminiscent of the denunciatory 'INRI' hung over Christ in the Christian topos. Similarly, there is the com-paratively modest oval of the metal license tag bearing the number 2622, which was issued by the City of New York, and gave the recipient the right to sell door-to-door. And finally there is the fleshy, clearly asymmetric face, darkly vignetted by some sort of shawl, and the lifeless eyes. These elements, in combination with the photograph's directness, without any attempt at photographic beautification, constitute a drastic presentation that would have shocked contemporaries viewers, accustomed as they were to non-committal pictorialism, Decades later, Strand remained impressed by the woman's dignity and recalled that she had "an absolutely unforgettable and noble face." He did not inquire after her name or story.




Paul Strand
( 1890 – 1976)

White Fence
1916

 

It is doubtful that Strand - in contrast to Lewis Hine, for example - intended to make a symbolic gesture for social reform. Although the artist always understood himselfto be a politically thinking man, open toward movements of the times (it is well known that he later took an interest in Communism), the context in which the picture first appeared, in the form of a 13 3/8 x 10 1/8-inch platinum print (today in the Metropolitan Museum, New York), suggests that Strand's only interest in revolt was in the realm of art. The Blind Woman was not a part of the first Paul Strand exhibit organized by Stieglitz at his 291 gallery in 1916; but in the following year the picture already reached a broader international public when Stieglitz devoted the entire final double edition of his influential journal Camera Work to Paul Strand. In addition to Blind Woman, the final Number 49/50 presented five further street portraits, views of New York, graphically con-ceived object studies, and an essay in which the photographer formulated his aesthetic credo. Strand's belief in an unfalsified, unmanipulated straight photography was not necessarily new, for the art critic Marius de Zayas had argued in 1913 for a use of the camera composed for "the objective condition of the facts". But Strand's explanations and arguments were delivered simultaneously with convincingly believable pictorial evidence.

Since its first publication in Camera Work in 1917, Blind Woman, together with the photographer's other street portraits have been accounted as "Strand's most exciting work," in the words of Alan Trachtenberg. Helmut Gemsheim called them "living fragments from the great kaleidoscope of everyday life." Similarly, in his history of street photography, Colin Wester-beck claimed that every street photographer surely knows Blind Woman and has learned from it. The question arises then, why the young Paul Strand gave up this kind of photography as early as 1916, never to return in later years. Did working with a 'hidden camera' suddenly seem immoral to him, as one critic surmises? One thing is certain: "His later images are magnificent," according to Milton Brown, "yet they don't have the journalistic quality that the early ones have."




Paul Strand
( 1890 – 1976)
 


Wall Street
1915

 

 

City Hall Park, New York, 1915


Gaston Lachaise, 1927

 

 


Portrait, Washington Square Park, 1916


Church, 1944

 

 


Lathe No. 3, Akeley Shop, New York, 1923


Leaves II, 1929

 

 


Harold Greengard
Twin Lakes, Connecticut
1916

 

 


New York
1916

 


Untitled
1915

 

 


New York
1916

 


Still Life with Pear and Bowls
1916

 

 


The Family, Luzzara, Italy
1953

 

 


Portrait of a Man, South Uist
1954

 

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