Paul Strand is considered to be one of the world’s greatest
' photographers. Lila Rawlings takes a look at a new exhibition of his photographs currently gracing the walls of Edinburgh’s National Portrait Gallery.
Paul Strand is one of the world‘s tnost collected photographers — his black and white prints fetch vast
sums of cash whenever they go on sale. His image of ;
the angry young boy (Young Boy. (’iondevill. Charente. France. 195/ ). is as popular as Robert Doisneau‘s srnooching couple at the Hotel de Ville.
He has inspired many of America‘s biggest name photographers from Avedon to Leibovitz and his portraits from ltaly and France have had their fair share of inﬂuence on the rustic-as-chic school of advertising imagery. The World on.M_v Doorstep spans the last 25 years of his career. including work from The Hebrides. France. Italy, Romania and Africa. and offers a valuable chance for visitors to make up their own minds.
Bom in New York in I890. Strand got his big break at Alfred Stieglitz's 29/ gallery on Fifth Avenue (where he had previously seen shows by Picasso and Braque who were to inﬂuence his style). From 192 l. he worked primarily as a film camera man while pursuing his love of photography. in 1951 he moved to France. in an effort to escape from McCarthyism and concentrate on his search for the perfect village. enabling him to explore what he described as ‘the things that make a place what it is‘.
h Young Boy, Conderville. Charente. France, 1951
In I954. he visited South [fist in the Outer Hebrides
where he spent three months getting to know the place and the people and taking pictures. The results were published as a book - 'l‘ir u'M/ntruin. Outer Hebrides and make up the first room of the show. Considering it was the ’feel' of the images rather than the technique that interested Strand. they are exquisite. beautifully-produced prints. According to Catherine Duncan. his Iong—tirnc colleague and friend. ‘his darkroom was so low—tech that he didn‘t even use a timer! He never made more than two prints so that what you see has already been edited according to his very high standards.‘
Havingy written texts fora number of Strand's books since the l95tl‘s. Duncan is visiting Edinburgh for the opening of the show and to talk about what makes the work so special for her. With a face reminiscent of an elderly. softer Simone de Beauvoir. she speaks of her love of the work. lighting up the room. ‘ln this series I think you can see a play of compliments.‘ she says. pointing to a picture of a
deep-set croft window. fartned by heavy thatch weighted down by rocks. ‘In this picture. yotr can understand the climate and the elements -- sea. wind. rain but you can also see the lace curtain on the inside of the window which is in total contrast and tells us about the people w ho by e there.‘
In Strand's portraits we really see his attempts to ex oke a particular time and a place. In his portrait of Margaret .\Iacl-can. the beautiful dark features of a young woman are seen. her Fair Isle sweater and delicate silver necklace in dramatic contrast to the rough texture of a croft wall behind her. In another. Arehi Maedonald stands. hands together. pipe in mouth with a resolute stare straight into the camera lens. 'l‘hese photographs echo Strand's words. ‘I like to photograph people with strength and dignity in their faces. Whatever life has done to thetn. it has never destroyed them'.
Strand eventually found his ideal village in Luzzara. Italy. The portraits he took of the families who lived in this small rural community have been
understandably compared to the look of the neo- realist films of Roberto Rossellini. Through the not-
sotose-tinted glasses of the 1990s. Strand's attempt
to capture the dignity of the harsh lives that these
people lived. feels like an uneasy nostalgia. Unlike
Dorothea Lange's haunting portraits taken dttring the
l‘i_i()’s Great Depression or Walker livans‘ photographs of families in Alabama for his book l.et
Us Now l’roist' l'untotts Men. Strand has deliberately chosen not to show us the bare bones of poverty. In
the later photographs taken in his garden in Orgeval in lirance we see Strand exploring the relationship
between the shapes and textures of the blades of
grass and mottled leaves that he loved. In these pictures. everything is in focus. nothing is privileged by the camera and it is irt this work that Strand achieves something that is both universal and timeless.
I ’ttul Strand .' The World on My Doorstep.
1950 -/976 u! the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Edinburgh until 9 July.
last year’s Aerial project. It’s an I anonymous, meditative space — almost ; like a waiting room in a public
On the whole the work is effective because it frustrates preconceptions of what you expect to find in this environment. The house is an evocative background mainly because it is so ordinary. It gives the work the potential to say something about all houses - domestic space in general and the relationships we construct in it.
There is often unnecessary mystique surrounding site-specific work but it is not complicated. This is an empty house which offers a quiet space to wander, see some pretty good art and reflect on your everyday life. Public House is easy to relate to. Co!
‘ square house from recycled aluminium
cans in the living room of the flat. ‘This collaboration is about everyone
coming out or their own isolation’ says
; Elsewhere in the more secluded
i bedroom spaces the artists have made
% individual works. In what would be
mum and dad’s room lam has made a
double bed, subtly altered to suggest
l a disappeared figure. The piece,
I Boiling Until I Evaporate, is about
i isolation, about someone being
' Home is t where the heart is
An empty flat in Cralgmlllar is not the first place you’d expect to find an exhibition of conceptual-based contemporary sculpture. First floor left, 10 CraingIIar Castle Road, however, is where four Edinburgh artists have made the latest alternative space project to be seen In the city. Public House is set in a classic British council flat and the installations are integrated into its -' ~ i ‘ a ‘ . g g h." m. y in; #431533; , _ z . The four artists Involved - Stuart 1 ‘ I N . ‘ ._ Beam, Paul Charlton, Yin Lam and ~ . .‘f, , -... - .. 5 .E ' EV" mum" ‘ hm "mud "It" Open all hours: Public House at plasterboard. This is similar to a work minimum “slam” ‘0 build a 9" 10 Cralemlllar 08!"! Road 5 Robertson made in an office space for
. consumed by their own private malaise. Stuart Bennet’s Stool in the
‘ next room is a series of drawings on
j the wall, plans and devices to
a j construct and dissect an ordinary
is ; stool, which doesn’t actually exist. It’s
as though the room has been used for
" i a strange but sophisticated hobby.
, Ewan Robertson’s Installation in the
Public House, First floor left, 10 Cralgmlllar Castle Road, Edinburgh. 6-17 June. Buses: 21, 14, 2, 12, 32, 52, 42, 46.
l Simple partitions are constructed from