By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The newest exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art  brings into focus one artist’s long career in black and white photography.

Paul Strand, who would have been 124 years old today, is regarded as a towering figure in modern photography.  His early work, between 1915 and 1920, is his most celebrated.

“He really launched what is known as ‘street’ photography,” notes  Peter Barberie, the museum’s curator of photographs.

 

(Peter Barberie with Paul Strand's "Wall Street."  Photo by Steve Tawa)

(Peter Barberie with Paul Strand’s “Wall Street.” Photo by Steve Tawa)

—–

He says Strand’s images of people and places in New York City, of objects in the New England countryside, and of a small village in north-central Italy are at once unique and universal.

Among his most famous photographs are those of the Lusetti family in Luzzara, Italy.  Barberie says perhaps the most iconic is an image of five of the ten brothers of Strand’s friend Valentino, gathered around their mother in the doorway of their farmhouse.

 

("The Family, Luzzara (The Lusettis)," 1953, Paul Strand.  Image provided by Phila. Museum of Art)

(“The Family, Luzzara (The Lusettis),” 1953, Paul Strand. Image provided by Phila. Museum of Art)

—–

“Valentino is not in the picture,” Barberie notes.  “Perhaps he was stage directing:  Strand didn’t speak Italian (so) he needed Valentino to tell them what to do.”

The Philadelphia museum has acquired 4,000 images, many of which were prints 11 by 14 inches. By the 1920s, and for the decades that followed, Strand preferred contact printing, working from negatives that were 8″ x 10″ or 4″ x 6″.

“He would make prints exactly the size of the negatives,” Barberie explains.   “He loved the quality of detail that you could get from that kind of printing.”

Strand, whose career spanned from the 1910s to the 1970s, once said that “photographs are a record of life for those who want to see.”

The exhibit of Paul Strand photographs runs from October 21st through January 4th at the museum.

Watch & Listen LIVE