Paul Strand, 'The White Fence'

Paul Strand, 'The White Fence'

Paul Strand (1890-1976)
'The White Fence'
1916
Museum no. PH.374-1982

The Photograph

This image, taken in 1916, is a dramatic shift away from the Pictorialist photographic style that Strand had previously adopted and was still dominant at this time. Strand was breaking new ground in both subject matter and presentation. He chose the fence in order to show that an ordinary object (one which would not at that time have been considered an artistic subject) was invested with a striking aesthetic appeal. He represents the fence in sharp focus, its impact heightened by the out-of-focus buildings in the background. The power of the image suggests that Strand was declaring a new visual language for photography.

The Photographer

Paul Strand studied photography at the Ethical Culture High School in New York and had joined the classes of Lewis Hine. It was his interest in Pictorialist photography, however, that inspired him to become a professional photographer in 1912.

In 1913-14 Strand became interested in modern art such as the work of Picasso, Brancusi and Braque, which he saw at the '291' gallery and the Armory Show in 1913. He began to explore their work and to consider how photography could respond to modern art.

His work of 1915-17 was highly experimental and marked a radical shift in the vision of photography. The photographs he produced at this time are credited as being the first abstract still lifes and brutally candid shots intended as art rather than reportage photography. He used his great technical skill to create striking images that were always sensitive to the quality and substance of the subject matter.

Stieglitz was greatly impressed by his work, gave him a show at the '291' and reproduced his work in two editions of 'Camera Work' in 1916 and 1917. Strand continued to reassess photographic subject matter and presentation throughout the late 1910s and the 1920s producing, for example, close-ups of machinery and natural forms, and 'candid' portraits.

In the 1930s most of his creative energy was devoted to cinematography, working in Mexico and the USA. He returned to still photography in 1943 and travelled to many locations including Europe (he came to live in France), Africa, and the Middle East, producing enduring images of the people, their land and its details. He died in his home in Orgeval in France in 1976.

 

This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 13a.