JTF (just the facts): A total of 120 black and white photographs, framed in black and matted and hung throughout the gallery space (which is divided by several interior walls). 99 of the images are by Paul Strand (a mix of vintage and later prints), 22 are film stills by Ned Scott, and there is 1 image by Weegee (of a movie marquee advertising Strand’s film). A central room has been created by three internal walls, and it contains a screen displaying Strand’s 1936 film Redes, as well as variety of letters and other ephemera. This yellow-walled room also contains examples of Strand’s back-to-back mounting technique and paired prints showing different processes and the evolution of his printing style over many decades. A map of Strand’s travels in Mexico is near the entrance to the exhibit. Aperture has also recently published a lavish scholarly monograph of this body of work; it can be found (here). (Installation shots at right.)
To my eye, the portraits of the people (whether we call them local, indigenous, native, or just the rural poor) are the standout pictures in this project. Men, women and children stand against pock marked brick walls and wooden doors or sit on the ground holding baskets. They wear everyday clothes: hats, capes, ponchos, cotton wraps, covered in dust and full of holes, bare feet sticking out. The images mix textures rich in tonality, and find contrasts of dark and light, with shadows slashing across backgrounds. But is the harsh power in the faces that makes them memorable; there is heroism, grace, patience, and dignity in these portraits, with an undercurrent of steely strength. The consistent dynamic quality and intensity of these photographs is truly astounding.
I am very pleased to see Aperture really pushing the scholarship ball forward here. The monograph is really a catalogue raisonné of Strand’s Mexican work, documenting every single image in the Archive and providing further historical context for his relationships, influences, and activities. It is an invaluable reference tool for this specific Mexican work, and provides a surprisingly extensible framework for thinking about Strand’s work in other locations around the world. So come for the show and see the unknown back story to The Mexican Portfolio, and then take home the wrist breaking book for further study.
- Reviews: New Yorker (here), Wall Street Journal (here), Artinfo (here)
- Exhibition: Bronx Museum (here)
547 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001