Today, we celebrate the birthday of seminal photographer and modernist innovator Paul Strand. Strand’s striking black-and-white images capture all manner of subjects, but some of his finest works are his “portraits” of places around the world.
The famed Wall Street perfectly captured the imposing presence of American modernity and New York’s modernist architecture in 1915. Its tiny human subjects and the daunting, abysmal forms overhead create a work of harrowing abstraction.
As he was a founder of Photo League, an early group of socially conscious photographers, humanity is a constant in Strand’s work even when people are not. American House captures the country’s fading past in Wall Street’s wake, and Strand’s portraits of Mexico and Scotland examine the connection to the land that was foreign to the native New Yorker.
The artist also lent his keen eye for place to filmmaking, and, in 1921, shot Manhatta with artist Charles Sheeler. The famed silent film has become an invaluable portrait of early-20th-century New York City and its gritty mania, as well as America’s first avant-garde film.