Paul Strand, Fundación Mapfre, Madrid

The most comprehensive exhibition to explore the work of American artist Paul Strand (1890 – 1976) will be on display at Madrid’s Fundación Mapfre gallery. Strand’s career spans six decades, from the 1910s to the 1960s, and the exhibit will take visitors through his life and work. The artist’s 1921 film Manhatta will be shown along with more than 200 works from museum and private collections. The latest in Fundación Mapfre’s series dedicated to lesser-known photographers, the exhibit will feature the 50 photographs acquired by the gallery in 2011.

Strand, born in New York in 1890, worked throughout the early 20th century to utilise photography’s inherent relationship with social reform and its potential to exceed human vision. Whilst Strand originally made close studies of the urban city and nature, his travels ultimately took him through much of Europe and Africa, where he continued exploring the left-wing social themes of his early work and experimented with candid portraiture. The show offers an exploration of the photographer’s subversive, politically charged work, providing a profound insight into his belief that, as an artist, it was his responsibility to truthfully portray human conflict.

The show’s first exhibit, From Pictorialism to Modernism, features Strand’s earliest work from the 1910s, depicting his shift in perspective to urban New York and borderline-abstract aesthetics. His work from this period reflects a keen interest in the changing scale of the modern city. From Stieglitz’ Circle to Portraits of the Community During the 1920s depicts the inherent contrast in Strand’s work between a focus on the details of machinery and an exploration of humanity. The twinned development of Strand’s left-wing political stance and his continued fascination with New York culminates in Manhatta, a short film portraying the vibrant, abstract imagery of the city typical to Strand’s photography.

Finally, Sketches of History and Modernism in the 1940s shows Strand’s move towards books, where he combined film’s narrative and photography’s uniquely expressive capacity. His work throughout the 1950s and 1960s focussed on a struggle for democracy and individual freedom throughout the world – work that perhaps reflects his frustrations with the United States’ heavily anti-communist political atmosphere. In later life, the artist’s work became more self-searching, moving away from the broader political world to study his home and garden in Paris; after a far-reaching career spanning most of the world, this final exhibition reveals Strand’s return to his earlier, more abstract studies of nature.

Paul Strand, 3 June – 23 August, Fundación Mapfre, Paseo de Recoletos, 23, 28004 Madrid, Spain. For more information visit

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1. Wall Street, New York [Wall Street, Nueva York], 1915. Copia al platino Philadelphia Museum of Art, Filadelfia. The Paul Strand Retrospective Collection, 1915-1975, donación de los herederos de Paul Strand, 1980-21-2. © Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive