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Strand, Paul


STRAND, PAUL (1890–1976), U.S. photographer. The son of immigrants from Bohemia, Strand was born in New York City and given his first camera at the age of 12 by his well-to-do father. He was sent to the Ethical Culture School in 1904 for an education that gave equal weight to individual creativity and social engagement. There his teacher was Lewis Hine, who at the time was photographing immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. Hine introduced him to Alfred *Stieglitz, and in 1916 Strand had his first one-man exhibition at Stieglitz's famed "291" gallery. The last two issues of Stieglitz's Camera Work in 1917 were devoted to Strand's photography, whose principal early subjects were Manhattan life and 20th-century machinery. Several of his images from that period, including "Wall Street" (1915), "The White Fence" (1916) and "Blind" (1916), are considered revolutionary in their starkness and use of light and shadow. Strand's street photos of 1916, taken with a special camera designed to capture his subjects unawares, emulated Hines' engaged stance. He focused on the city's rich cultural mix (two Orthodox Jewish men deep in conversation; an elderly woman with a time-creased face in Washington Square Park), but he also portrayed the city's dispossessed, including a picture of a disheveled woman yawning and a man with dazed eyes in an Irish slum.

After service in the Army Medical Corps, where he was introduced to X-ray and other medical camera procedures, Strand collaborated with Charles Sheeler on the film Manhattan, released as New York the Magnificent in 1921. Strand made his exquisitely composed landscape and nature photographs in the 1920s. With the onset of the Depression, Strand became active in politics. A socialist, he worked with the Group Theater, which had been formed in New York by Harold *Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, and Lee *Strasberg in 1931. The Group was an attempt to create a theater collective with a company of trained players dedicated to presenting works by contemporary writers. Members of the group tended to hold left-wing political views and wanted to produce plays that dealt with important social issues. In 1935 Strand visited the Soviet Union and met the radical film director Sergei *Eisenstein. When Strand returned to the United States, he began to produce socially significant documentary films, including The Plow That Broke the Plains in 1936, his film on trade unions in the Deep South, People of the Cumberlands the following year, and Native Land in 1942. The latter evolved from a Congressional hearing on anti-labor activities. When it was released on the eve of World War ii, its message was considered politically divisive.

In 1936 Strand joined with Berenice Abbott to establish the Photo League in New York, whose initial purpose was to provide the radical press with photographs of trade-union activities and political protests. The Museum of Modern Art in New York held a full-scale retrospective of Strand's work in 1945. Later in that decade, the Photo League was investigated by the House Un-American Activites Committee. Several members were blacklisted and Strand decided to leave the United States and live in France. There he produced A Profile of France with Claude Roy in 1952, A Village with Cesare Zavattini in 1955, and Tir a'Mhurain, about the Hebrides, with Basil Davidson in 1968.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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