Straight Photography and Paul Strand

Straight Photography was a movement that developed in the early 1900s, marking a movement away from the Pictorialist emphasis on painterly composition. The Straight Photographers sought to capture their subject-matter with a clarity that only the camera could achieve, utilizing the unique merits of their medium – sharp focus and close cropping – rather than attempting to define photographic style by referencing painting. At the same time, their striking use of shadow, and of clear lines and shapes, facilitated a move towards abstraction.

The work of the American photographer Paul Strand, who had previously been a Pictorialist and member of the Photo-Secession group, perhaps best exemplifies the ethos of Straight Photography. With pieces like Wall Street (1915), he offered both a crisp and direct treatment of recognizable subject-matter, and a formally striking emphasis on interlocking shapes and lines. Strand’s work, like Coburn’s, was championed by Albert Stieglitz, featuring in the final two issues of his journal Camera Work. Strand’s photographs often emphasize the abstract designs or patterning of ordinary things: fences, furniture, or stacks of bowls.

Strand titled many of his pictures from 1915-16 “Abstractions,” stating that his exposure to the work of Picasso, Braque, and Constantin Brancusi at Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery in New York had inspired him to “apply their then strange abstract principles to photography.” His approach to the Straight image influenced not only contemporaries, but also a younger generation of photographers such as Edward Weston, who emphasized abstract form and pattern in works such as Cabbage Leaf (1931).

On December 17th 2017 I posted “Thwacked” and 365 days later I have no idea where to go…