A FEW MONTHS BEFORE HIS DEATH in 1976, Paul Strand wrote: "I think of myself fundamentally as an explorer who has spent his life on a long voyage of discovery." This issue of Aperture embraces the last twenty-five years of Paul Strand's discoveries—from 1950, when he expatriated to France from the McCarthyism of the United States, until his death in 1976.
WHEREVER I happened to be, in the Southwest, in Mexico, in an Italian village, in Ghana or Egypt, in Morocco or on the islands of the Outer Hebrides, I sought the signs of a long partnership that give each place its special quality and create the profiles of its people.
PAUL AND HAZEL STRAND stood in the garden beside the old willow tree gazing back at the house, and as they looked it seemed to become transparent. The khaki-colored walls would have to be repainted white, the ugly fireplace rebuilt. Then the eye would travel comfortably from the front garden, through the big living room to include the weeping birch in the back courtyard.
Strand went his way on a road full of musings, capriciousness, meditation and reveries, a road whose unharried curves and bends he enjoyed like a child playing hooky with no purpose other than that of observing and absorbing as much of humanity's simplest, most naked truth as possible.
I first shook hands with him in 1949, in the intense atmosphere of Perugia, where filmmakers like myself were trying to give neorealistic cinema a sociopolitical structure that would reach beyond Italy and combine with the most recent advances in motion-picture art.
The name of Paul Strand is honored by everyone who believes that photography can be more than a superficial trick of light and chemistry and mirrors. Thirty and forty years ago his early work had the quality of pioneering vision into the art of photography; and throughout his life since then, passed mostly in the United States where he was born, Strand has worked exactingly at raising the standards of photographic art to higher levels.
The task we set ourselves was to try to lay the foundations for understanding Egypt and its people. Egypt's history has always evolved out of its rich land and its poor people. The photographs and the text of "Living Egypt" begin there and develop, on this basis, the idea that modern Egypt is emerging from her past and her poverty, and is trying to overcome the heritage of more than two thousand years of continuous occupation.
Wherever the painter, writer, or photographer may be working, he has, I think, a great responsibility for truthfulness. But if the place and the material chosen is a country which is not his own, that responsibility is heavier. Here he is relatively a stranger.
Some time ago, Paul Strand began to think about making a portrait of Africa and its people. Other peoples had already known his penetrating candor and received his stern, affectionate gaze—among them the Mexicans and New Englanders, and in Europe the Italians, the French and the islanders of Scotland’s Celtic fringe.
It was a fine experience. For many years I wanted to expand the early work with machinery to large machines; I made up my mind that I wanted to photograph as much industry as possible.... I made a list of all the places I wanted to go... a petrochemical plant, a steel mill, a ship building site, a glass factory.
1890 Born October 16, in New York City, of Bohemian descent. 1907 At the Ethical Culture School, studied under Lewis Hine, who took his class to Alfred Stieglitz's Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue. 1909 Graduated from Ethical Culture School.