NEW YORK, JUNE 27 -- The National Gallery of Art today announced a gift of six photographs by Paul Strand, who spent his 69-year career striving to reveal the humanity in everything he photographed, be it a peasant family or a fence.
Given by the Southwestern Bell Corp., the photographs will be featured in a major Strand retrospective to open Dec. 2, the centennial of his birth. The corporation has promised to donate the remaining 55 works in its Strand collection after the retrospective finishes a two-year tour around the country and to London.
The 150 photographs in the show include some never before exhibited, ranging from studies of Wall Street that Strand did in his early twenties to images of flowers and fungi taken in the garden of his home in Orgeval, France, before he died in 1976.
"It includes some of the images discovered since his death," said J. Carter Brown, National Gallery director. "There was a cache of Paul Strand photographs found under his bed -- literally under his bed."
Many of Strand's images are familiar, having been popularized through a contemporary proliferation of reproductions, cards and posters. Some of his best-known works are portraits taken in the Italian village of Luzzara in 1953, among them a solemn-faced young tailor's apprentice holding a hat, and another of barefoot members of the Lusetti family posing on their stoop.
But the exhibit, said the gallery's photography curator Sarah Greenough, will surprise Strand aficionados who have never before seen the original prints in all their layers of shading and subtlety. Strand was "an extraordinary craftsman" whose images "seem as fresh and revolutionary and even as vital as images being made today," Greenough said.
Strand, born in New York City, got his first camera, a Brownie, from his father at age 12, but didn't begin to use it until age 17, while a student at the Ethical Culture School. At that time he began to study with photographer and sociologist Lewis Hine and was introduced to Alfred Stieglitz, who ultimately became a mentor to him. At the age of 26, Strand had his first solo show at Stieglitz's 291 gallery in New York.
Despite critical success as a photographer, Strand supported himself working as a freelance filmmaker. Some of his films will be shown at the retrospective, including "Manhatta," which Strand called an attempt to capture New York's "power and beauty and movement."
Among Strand's most haunting photographs are portraits taken through the years of his first wife, Rebecca, 10 of which will be featured in the retrospective. They seem to capture the early closeness, and later the dissolution, of their relationship. A full-face portrait of Rebecca stares out from the cover of the exhibition catalogue, her sad eyes so vivid and moist that her face practically emerges from the flat page.
After he moved to France in the early 1950s, Strand spent the next two decades traveling and producing photo books. He worked until his death, turning his lens on his garden in France when he was too ill and weak-sighted to travel.
When he died, Strand's work became the property of the Strand Archives and the Aperture Foundation, from which Southwestern Bell acquired 55 of his works in the mid-'80s for the corporation's new headquarters in St. Louis.