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Photographer Paul Strand was born on this day in 1890, during an era when the jury was still out on whether photography was a fine art or not. I think that debate has pretty much been settled now, and Strand had a lot to do with advancing photography to the status is now enjoys.

After learning the basics of photography from Lewis Hine, one of the original social reformers in the arts, Strand was one of a number of modern artists who gravitated toward Alfred Stieglitz just as modernism was beginning to break down the walls of the artistic academy. He helped pioneer a straightforward photographic style that paved the way for such iconic photographers as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, who in turn influenced a generation of post-war artists. We all owe a debt to Stieglitz and Strand, either for inspiring us or giving us something to rebel against, just as Strand himself ultimately rebelled against his mentor. I suppose it was inevitable after Stieglitz slept with Strand’s wife, but that’s a story for another time.

Wall STreet (Paul Strand - 1915)

Strand was one of a generation of artists who had  a sensitivity to the less fortunate among us. Although he was never a card-carrying communist, Strand consorted with radicals enough to end up on the wrong list during the era of our long, McCarthy-induced paranoia in the beginning years of the Cold War and ended up leaving the country and spending the remainder of his life in Europe being followed around by secret police of various types.

Blind (Paul Strand - 1916)

If Strand were alive today, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him among the Occupy Wall Street crowd or with the demonstrators in Rome or some other European capitol. He was one of those uncommon artists who couldn’t seem to separate his art from his conscience. We could use more of those in these troubled times.



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