This exhibition, seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum, provided a special opportunity to see a large number of works by one of the greatest and most influential photographers of the twentieth century. The influence of Strand’s work on both fine art and documentary photography that followed is on view as we see work that covered periods of monumental change in politics, society, economics and foreign policy.
The exhibition is presented chronologically and covers his life works including the pictorial studies, the uncompromising New York street portraits, the images of architectural and urban modernism, his work in Mexico, France and the Outer Hebrides. The exhibition also covers his commitment and innovative approach to photo books. Strand’s demand for objectivity in photography and pioneering modernism can clearly be seen in the first galleries, his honesty then sometimes turning into anti-modern romanticism followed by his search for a new realism in the remote.
Seeing the urban metropolis and machine age image that is Wall Street is a treat for the eyes and the iconic Blind Woman is staggering in its strength, artistic realism and almost brutalism. The Blind Woman questions Strand’s stance on honesty, his hidden camera, with this portrait and those like it taken without the knowledge or consent of the subject, his need for honesty and objectivity. But is the subject really blind? And is there truth in this documentary practice? It is one of a number of New York types in the exhibition which are poignant and compelling as images of poverty amongst the thriving metropolis.
The two art film documentaries by Strand that are exhibited and the photographs from Mexico present his work most strongly in a wider ideological context and it is here we most clearly see the connections between his politics and work. The work in Mexico is transitional and from here Strand went on to photograph more remote and hidden areas of Europe including Britain. The work made in the Outer Hebrides, over three months in 1954, and published in the photo book The Land of Bent Grass is a beautiful, fascinating series showing a new realism and organic connection with the people land and sea.