Paul Strand and the Philadelphia Museum of Art

…And someone stained the glass for light to pour through, washing the set stones in color. — Linda Pastan, Carnival Evening, excerpted from Anon. for Gil

Stained glass window in the Philadelphia Museum.

Philadelphia Museum

Philadelphia Museum steps during Paul Strand exhibit.

I attended the Paul Strand exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum on Dec. 17, 2014.  The exhibit is open until Jan. 4, 2015.  I was very impressed with the Museum, less so with Paul Strand’s photography.  It could be simply a different aesthetic, but I thought most of the prints were too dark, although I concede that he did retain detail even in the shadows.  Also, many of the prints were platinum, which doesn’t have a bright white, making the overall print seem darker. Most of the earlier prints were platinum with a sprinkling of gum bichromate and palladium prints throughout the exhibit.  The more recent work was silver gelatin.  The prints in the catalog book of the exhibit were much lighter and more in line with today’s printing approach.

Certainly his photographs were ground breaking at the time he made them, but I don’t think his work has stood up as well as the work of Cartier-Bresson, for example.  His iconic image of a blind woman was noteworthy (also printed with a broader tonal range).  The “Conversation,” apparently one of his lesser known works, I thought was one of his better images, despite being printed extremely low key.  His work from Mexico, Egypt and Ghana is all very good.  The work from Maine did not excite me.

In my opinion he left a lot on the table from the Hebrides and judging from what he did do, I believe it must have been photographically richer than that body of work would suggest.  In some ways, in the capture of a culture and an age from Luzzara, Italy, and from France, his work seemed to me to be analogous to some of the Farm Service work of Walker Evans and others.

The museum itself  offered a lot.  It is moderately priced, but we were able to cut that in PhilaMuseum_DSCN1588half by using a Groupon coupon, which the  museum readily accepted.  Parking is not too expensive for a major city at $12 for the first four hours and $2 for each additional hour.  I think the exhibit is worth seeing, even if I wasn’t impressed –  only my opinion and history has decided otherwise.

Regardless of the photography, the company was absolutely top notch.  Thank you all for a great day!



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