Paul Strand

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Paul Strand (1890-1976) was born in New York and attended the Ethical Culture School, based on the principles of John Dewey , a popular choice for those middle class Jewish families wishing to assimilate into secular US society.(Encarta) In 1907 he joined the photography classes and club taught by Lewis Hine, the greatest American documentary photographer of his time, who was photographing living conditions in slum areas and the treatment of immigrants on arrival at Ellis Island, and campaigning for the appeal of child labor laws through photographs of "Children Working" on the streets, in factories and in mines. (Capa)
Hine took his students to Alfred Stieglitz's "Gallery at 291", which had an overwhelming impression on the seventeen-year-old Strand, who later returned to discuss his photographs with Stieglitz. After leaving school Strand started work in the family business, continuing his photography in his spare time.(Encarta) His early work followed the pictorialist model of the photo secession, but further visits to 291 and other galleries, and discussions with Stieglitz meant that Strand was kept up to date with the new modern art from Europe. He shared Stieglitz's growing disillusion with pictorialism, and in particular his growing insistence that photography should make use of the unique possibilities it offered, particularly its ability to describe the scene with greater detail and accuracy than the human hand, rather than attempt to mimic painting or drawing. (Rosenblum) Strand expressed his views clearly and forcibly in a number of articles.
Strand was one of the first photographers to take up the visual problems and approaches which he saw in modern art. By 1915 this was showing clearly in his work, with an interest in geometrical forms, patterns, rhythm, space and the division of the frame; the pictures were like a knife cutting through the butter of Pictorialism . Stieglitz greeted this with enthusiasm, showing it in the gallery and making it the feature of the final issues of Camerawork. (Web Galleries)
The "White Fence", perhaps the best known from this period, shows the white painted pickets of a fence across the lower half of the picture, setting up a rhythm which is syncopated by their imperfections. The spaces between the posts show a dark grass area, pictorially of equal weight to the white wood, setting up a 'figure-ground opposition' (we can see it as either light areas against a dark background or dark areas against a light background) in this part of the picture, producing the spatial illusion of bringing the horizontal grass expanse into a vertical visual plane.

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