Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Paul Strand: Towards a Deeper Understanding

The other catalog recently published is Paul Strand At Work: Towards a Deeper Understanding which was on view from February 22 to March 31, 2007.

This catalog is a bit more like a fully realized book. I should admit, at the risk of sounding foolish, that Paul Strand has never really gotten my full attention. I know the work fairly well but haven’t (until now) really looked and enjoyed it. I actually used to find his work, dare I say, a bit boring. This exhibition really brought me around and the book is now one of my favorites.

The catalog is hardcover and it is the same trim size as the Harry Callahan Nature book but it has almost twice as many images. Like the Callahan, the materials and reproductions are top notch. A reproduction is tipped into the cover. Gerhard Steidl was able to match the deep print quality that Strand’s prints have. An essay in the beginning of the book by Andrew Szegedy-Maszak talks of Strand’s understanding of photography and his process of picture making.

The book is divided into three sections: Portraits, Architecture and Landscape. What was wonderful about both the exhibition and the book is that the work seems to be a portrait of a specific place. One place. We experience the people in the portraits section and for the most part they seem to wear their histories on their clothing and skin. We then see the architecture which feels very utilitarian until a photograph of a doorway in which a decorative pedestal and urn shaped motif suggests a life more extravagant. Strand then directs our attention to the landscape and the ways it is “controlled.” First by farmers (easily imagined that the people we first experienced in the portrait section are the stewards) or as well, how nature itself “controls” the landscape in its own manner.

Together we have a portrait of a place and its residents. Then we read the captions and discover that the images are made on three different continents. The viewer has been led down a path and left freely to develop their own connections between the photographs.

My congratulations go out to the editors of this book and exhibition that they could convey so much within the space of twenty-five photographs.