Black And White Is Beautiful: The Photography Of Paul Strand, Reviewed

Paul Strand, V&A ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 26 months ago
Black And White Is Beautiful: The Photography Of Paul Strand, Reviewed Paul Strand, V&A 4
The lengthy shadows on Wall Street give this image a momentous feel. © Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

Over the last few years we've been spoiled for exhibitions examining history through photography. Revelations: Experiments in Photography, Nick Hedges, Cairo to Constantinople, Salt and Silver and two shows on Julia Margaret Cameron spring to mind. Plus we've got plenty of early photography in the current Martin Parr curated exhibition at Barbican.

Enter the black and white photography of Paul Strand at V&A; but does he have anything new to add to what we've already seen of late?

In short, yes. Even early on in his career Strand — heralded as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century — had a great eye for composition; the bright white of a picket fence is offset by the darker buildings in the background. Snow viewed from above contrasts with the exposed and darker brickwork adjacent to it.

A beautifully composed early photograph as the white fence outshines everything else. © Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

Our favourite work, though, is of pedestrians walking along Wall Street. The lengthy shadows and the people framed against an imposing building give this photograph a sense of the epic, even though it's just another day.

Strand's eye didn't let him down in the natural world either, where he finds the perfect composition as a vine grows across a tree trunk. His portraits are arguably the weakest part of his portfolio, but even then his image of a woman yawning feels so natural and at ease.

Strand managed to travel extensively and there are series of images here from the Americas, France, Morocco and even the Hebrides. These include some of the films he made along with his equipment — both cameras and video cameras.

But the show belongs to the huge collection of beautifully composed photographs. It's a subtle and special exhibition.

Even in the natural world, Strand's great eye for composition didn't desert him. © Paul Strand Archive, Aperture Foundation

Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th century is on at V&A until 3 July. Tickets are £9 for adults. Also on at V&A is the impressive Botticelli Reimagined, Contemporary portraiture and the newly refurbished European cast courts, Japanese gallery and European galleries.

Last Updated 22 March 2016