I thought I had mentioned the work of photographer Paul Strand here before but can’t seem to locate it. Strand lived from 1890 until 1976 and was part of the Modernist era of the early 2oth century, using his camera to capture the urban landscape’s abstracted forms in a way that no photographer had to that time. The image shown here, Wall Street, is perhaps one of his most famous.
His portraiture is also quite striking. Doing a Google image search, the page is immediately filled with multiple fairly closely cropped images of faces in black and white. They’re shot in a way that might make you think it would be difficult to discern any particular photographer’s eye but seeing them altogether shows clearly how he saw his subjects and show the continuity in his work. Strand was a student of the great Lewis Hine and carried on Hine’s use of the camera as a tool for social reform. His photos of the inhabitants of the city streets are powerful and gritty.
One of his projects was a film, Manhatta, with the great Modernist painter/photographer Charles Sheeler, another of my favorites. It is a really interesting view of the bustling, swelling city from 1921 taken from Strand’s and Sheeler’s unique perspectives. Just great imagery.
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I just love this photo. It’s a classic from around 1920 from the great Lewis Hine, the photographer who is best known for his photos of children at work in the mines, factories and fields of early 20th century America, images which aided in the crusade for child labor laws. Hard to believe but nationwide child labor laws weren’t fully enacted as law until 1938, about 30 years after Hine started his documentation. I will show some of those photos at another time. They are extremely powerful and human and should be seen by those of us with short memories for our not so distant past.
But Hine also was fascinated by the interaction of the worker with the machinery in the burgeoning industrial world. Man and machine. His photos are very poetic, the beautiful curves of the machine encompassing the straining form of the worker. Beautiful work.
For me, I am reminded of the A&P factory where I worked for several years as a candy cook. Our equipment was ancient, much of it built in the 20′s and 30′s with these same curves and weightiness of material. I always felt like the building was one large machine with multiple parts and we, the workers, were a sort of flexible cogs that connected the various parts. I often felt dwarfed by the sheer size and power of some of the machines but after a bit found that there was a wonderful sense of rhythm and empowerment in mastering a machine. That’s sort of what I see in this photo.
I’m also reminded of a piece of equipment I bought a number of years ago to clear some of my property here. It was a late 1940′s Allis Chalmers track loader, much like the one shown here. I spent as much time working on the machine with big wrenches much like the one the worker is using in the Hine photo as I ever did clearing land. After many headaches, I finally got rid of it after a few years. But I did come to appreciate the weight and intrinsic beauty of those big tools and still enjoy feeling them in my hands, if only to hold them for a moment.
Here’s a neat little videoon this photo from the George Eastman House, where much of Hine’s work is held.
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