Discuss A Paul Strand Photograph

Discussion in 'Discussing a ****** Photograph' started by Jim Chinn, Oct 8, 2006.

  1. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Some photographs present the viewer with several levels of complexity and enjoyment. Some ask far more questions then they answer. This image by Paul Strand is one IMHO: The Family, Luzzara, Italy, 1953.

    This was not a "found" image. Strand meticulously arranged the subjects for this composition. I always wonder what Strand saw in this group to take the time and effort and what they thought about his interest in them. Why did he pose everyone they way he did? For my self, even in a book reproduction, it is hard not to spend a great deal of time with this picture, pondering its faces and possible symbolism. I find lyricism and tension both and a dozen other ideas.

    What do others think?
     

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  2. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    As you say, Jim, a masterclass in composition, achieved through communciation with the subjects (possibly across a language barrier). This picture should be printed a million times at postcard size and distributed to every photography student in the world - this might put an end to "documentary" work in which the subject stares blankly and apathetically at the camera and looks bored stiff. Strand seems to have been adept at this type of work - he must have had some kind of zen quality!

    Good choice for posting!

    Regards,

    David
     
  3. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I like this picture for the composition and the feel of it but, as someone who has "posed" hundreds of groups I find this has a "you look here, and you look here" kind of feel to it. It seems a bit contrived on where the people are looking.

    To some it may seem "more natural" than everyone looking at the camera but to me it still has that contrived feel, mainly because there is no real reason for the subjects to be looking where they are looking.

    However I do like the compostion, clothes attitudes etc.


    Michael
     
  4. catem

    catem Member

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    I quite like it but it's not my favourite Strand photograph by any means.
    I agree with Michael it has a contrived feel about it. Contrivance can work, but somehow doesn't quite for me here.

    I can't help thinking of the Gordon Parks photograph we discussed recently of the lads on the street which had people in different sorts of poses, but they were natural and struck by the people themselves, the whole seemed so much more spontaneous and, for me at least, more 'truthful'.

    Cate
     
  5. Pastiche

    Pastiche Member

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    well.. I'd THINK that PS was familiar w. psychic lines... which we "read" into figures on the picture plane (extending along each person's line of sight to whatever it appears they are looking at)....
    I feel this device plays a great part in what keeps the eye of the viewer bouncing back into and over the image...
    Other than that, sure.. the intelligent use of repetition of forms, of emphasis by location, variety, contrast (the old woman) .. .
    But... I'd feel almost as confident saying that these things did not occur as conscious decisions, but by conditioned reflex... with enough training... composition becomes autonomous for the most part...
    Unfortunately - after having the "directorial" hand exposed in this picture (by Michael) I too feel like it's fairly contrived...
     
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  6. Bill Mitchell

    Bill Mitchell Member

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    The best criticism I've read of this image is that it doesn't show any Italians known to mankind. A family like this sould be talking, shouting, pouting, gesticulating, etc, not looking like they were all drugged or at a funeral. Strand was a dour, taciturn man -- perhaps this is the ultimate example of the addage that the images of great photographers are always of themselves, not of their subject.
    There is a good bit of interesting footage of his time in this village in the biographical DVD "Under the Darkcloth."
     
  7. catem

    catem Member

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    Is that an adage? If so, I don't agree with it.

    Cate
     
  8. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I'm sure it's not an absolute, but do you not think that the personality, psyche, experience, prejudices etc that we all have, are not often present or subconsciously illustrated in the photographs we take.


    Michael
     
  9. Pastiche

    Pastiche Member

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    Cate,
    I've read Richard Avedon mentioning specifically that all his images are self portraits .... which is probably where the "adage" comes from....

    If you define self portrait narrowly enough, I'd say, yes, every image we take is a for of self portraiture... but it really depends on how narrowly you are willing to define self portrait...
     
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  10. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    I have never seen a bad or poorly seen photograph by Paul Strand. I have noticed after looking at his photographs over the years that there is something about them that seems consistent. It is like he was told about the saying that you should compose then move in closer. Nothing is "clipped" but he seems to fill the frame with only the important image information he was seeing.
     
  11. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    I have been familar with this photo for a long time. I like it.
     
  12. Will S

    Will S Member

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    If you watch the Strand movie they talk about the project that this picture was a part of. All of these brothers served in the Italian resistance during WWII. The father was killed I think. They are all surrounding their mother whose positioning in the doorway and the darkness serves to link her to each of them compositionally. Great picture. Strand's wife talks about how horribly unpicturesque the town was. He and the Italian that he was working with (director of the Bicycle Thief I think) decided on this village by randomly sitcking pins in a map. This town was the third they hit, and happened to be the hometown of the director.

    Best,

    Will
     
  13. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    I liked the comparisons b/w the archways of the front and back doors.

    As to the poses etc. - I get the impression that P.S. is kind of "mocking" Evans with this pic and showing scant poor white folk exist everywhere (or at least they did in Italy in the 1950's).

    This was the same era as the early post-war Italian movies like "The Bicycle Thief". Oh that waif-like Sophia Loren....
     
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  15. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    Add on:

    I hadn't seen this post before my above comment.

    One of the things I was wondering is - where is the Father?

    Will's historical notes explain that.

    And "The Bicycle Thief" motif is so evident....
     
  16. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    The composition that Strand chose is an excellent example of radial balance in a photograph.
     
  17. Pastiche

    Pastiche Member

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    Donald... fill me in...
    You see radial balance?
    I don't...
    To me, the balance comes from the cluster of heavier elements near the center left of the image, vs the lone man and bike at the far right...
    What brings balance being the weight of the black square framing the old lady, and that the guys near her are also nearer the center of the pic... leveraging the lone man, far right....

    I'd think of Mandalas, bicycle wheels, sunflowers... etc as radially balanced...
    Where the elements are arranged around a central AXIS. . ..
    Can you enlighten me as to how you see it arranged here?
     
  18. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    You guys are well beyond me.

    But I am struck by the relationship of the front wheel of the bicycle - with a very small partial of the rear wheel to the radials above the front door and rear.

    BTW, on the left, alongside the one fellows head there is an "artifact" growing...

    Oh, I do not see this as a "centered" shot.

    I wonder what the fellow next to the bike and the fellow seated on the left side are looking at? The others are looking at P.S.
     
  19. Tony Egan

    Tony Egan Subscriber

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    I saw a vintage print of this in a New York gallery a few years ago and it was incredibly powerful and moving. Online and even good book reproductions do not do it justice (like most photographs).

    As I recall, I could have traded my house for it with enough leftover for a nice frame!
     
  20. Pastiche

    Pastiche Member

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    Please forgive my tiny little gloat - I'm in Tucson, and work at the University of Arizona.. which houses the CCP
    http://dizzy.library.arizona.edu/branches/ccp/ccphome.html
    Where there is some of Strand's work (814 prints to be exact) . . and which I've gotten to see some just by accident... they have free print viewing sessions during the weekday afternoons, and twice a week I have classes that end just as the print viewing hours begin.. so I just drop in to see what's what..
    Last week someone had asked for one box each of Stieglitz, Strand, and Sullivan...

    Which is to say - indeed, the originals DO knock your pants off... no matter what we might not "fell" from this reproduction...
     
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  21. jacobus

    jacobus Member

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    In Paul Strand / Cesare Zavattini's book : "UN PAESE - Portrait of an Italian Village", Aperture, one not only finds this photo ( plus many others). It is also accompanied by the mother's statement that provides additional iconographic background.
    A great book revealing the strength and dignity of humble people (- if that's the wright word).
     
  22. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    If you look closely you may find that only the mother and perhaps the guy sitting in the doorway are looking at the camera. Even the guy sitting in the doorway may be looking slightly left.

    The one standing on the left looks to be looking up and left of the camera.


    Michael
     
  23. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    The radial balance that I see utilized here draws on both literal and symbolic meaning. The matriarch is positioned with her head higher than that of her sons. (She is literally the head of the family represented here). The arrangements of her sons radiate out from her position.

    Her sons are beneath her and radiate out from her on a increasing orb (spiral) beginning with the son to her lower left followed by the son immediately opposite and continuing on to the other son on the left side of the doorway and finished with the son by the bicycle. The hints to this circular arrangement is through the semi circular structure above the door (albeit abbreviated in the photograph) and the circular shape of the bicycle wheels.
     
  24. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I think that Strand deliberately chose and utilized the eye directions as an ingredient in the overall composition. The various eye directions are what one would typically observe in a group of people of this size in a natural setting. There are normally not only one relational conversation going on in a group of five people...not for very long, that is.

    The direction of the two that are gazing inward (center of the image) serve to give emphasis to the position of the mother. If one would have all gazing at the camera position it would have been highly unnatural considering the natural setting. At least that is my take on it.
     
  25. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Or you could say that the "hole" in the doorway is to represent the missing father. The one sitting with his mother is the youngest and hasn't left home yet (perhaps emotionally). The oldest one, sitting outside the doorway, knows he has to stay and look after the mother, the one on the far left has divorced himself from the group and is getting ready to leave and the young troublemaker is the one with the bike.

    Or you could say, the photographer said, I don't want you all looking at the camera so you look here, you look there etc.

    Michael
     
  26. catem

    catem Member

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    I can't help thinking.....and the way it's being discussed...this about control. Concepts, not people.

    I wish he'd got to the essence of these people, showed how they lived and breathed.

    Let them speak for themselves.
    After all, this is not a painting - it is a photograph, and as such there is so much more potential to pursue - the complex, indefinable and fleeting moments that contain human truth.