PAUL STRAND early on solved the problem of photographing the man in the street when the man in the street didn't want to be photographed.

He attached a false lens to the side of his camera.

While the effect was lost on a "Blind Woman," her eyes are nonetheless transfixing in the Library of Congress' exhibit of 63 photos by Strand.

With a card dangling from her neck identifying her as "Blind," and her peddler's license pinning her coat closed, the blind peddler of New York City is fierce to match her surroundings.

Remarkably, the photo was taken in 1915, when photographers were only beginning to see something other than formal portraits through their lenses. A member of Alfred Stieglitz's circle, Strand was a pioneer of modern photography. Proving photography to be a distinct medium, Strand experimented in abstractions -- his closeup of a group of bowls describes the essence of round. And he mastered every genre -- portraiture, nature closeups, landscapes, social commentary.

"I arrive finally at the smaller, the less known, the detail of a window," said Strand, "above all in the people themselves. It is my hope to find there what is explicit and implicit . . . that essential character which is compounded of both past and present."

That "essential character" he found in Mexico in the carved and bloodied religious statues, and in New England in the bizarre outline of a winged skull on a tombstone, or a teapot by a window.

It was Strand's ambition to do "a portrait of a small community," and for this he chose Luzzara, Italy, in the early 1950s, or it chose him. There are telling portraits of families here, as well as eloquent architectural photos.

France, where he died in 1976 at age 86, responded well to his style. There he captured on film the feror of an angry young man with knitted brow, wild hair and splendid aquiline nose, and the enchantment of an empty cafe.

THE SPIRIT OF PLACE: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PAUL STRAND -- At the Library of Congress, on the ground floor of the Jefferson Building.