Paul Strand's "Time in New England"
After hearing so many recommendations of this book by Apuggers whose photography I admire, I picked it up from my local library (on inter-library loan, actually), and for the life of me can't understand what the fuss is about.
Let me qualify that I have an interest in the type of photography in the book, which tends towards documentary, architectural, etc., but I just don't seem to see whatever it is that moved so many Apuggers to say that this book is what moved them to take photography up as a serious hobby, rather than a dabbling one. I'd say that only a couple of the photos struck me as interesting.
Is it that I grew up in New England and that everything in it just seems like snap-shots of every-day views? Is it that I'm slightly younger and have been exposed to so many photographers who were influenced by Strand that his photos have come to seem common-place to me? Am I just a "dabbler" who doesn't "get it"?
After viewing this book, I then went on to search out his other work and found that I really liked much of it, especially the NYC stuff. As I live in NYC, I also have the familiarity with it that I have with New England, so it's not that "familiarty breeds contempt."
What am I missing? What photos in the book stand out to you, and why?
I've also often wondered why this book is so special to me. Except for a handfull of images they do seem pretty ordinary, and there is no direct correlation between any image and Nancy Newhall's essays (which are absolutely superb).
But it does speak to me as no other classic book of photographs does (and I am from the rural South). I cannot explain the attraction.
I gave my first copy away to a painter friend from the Cape, and went for years cursing myself before finally replacing it.
I think that if you don't appreciate it now, that's okay. Just keep it in mind to try again in 10 or 15 years. There really is something special about it!
Also, be sure that you were looking at the later (Aperture) edition, as the reproduction of the earlier (original) edition left a lot to be desired.
I wonder if we're talking about the same book? My copy of this book has excerpts from historical New England texts, interspersed with the photographs; the texts were chosen by Nancy Newhall, but hardly written by her; instead they are from the archives of New England, such notables as Cotton Mather, John Winthrop, Governor William Bradford, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Daniel Webster, William Lloyd Garrison, Susan B. Anthony, and on and on. My favorite bit is a remarkable document signed by all twelve members of a jury that had served during the trials in Salem "of many who were by some suspected of witchcraft,' stating that they had come to believe too late that they had convicted innocent people during those trials. "we pray that we may be considered candidly and aright by the living sufferers as being then under the power of a strong and general delusion."
Originally Posted by Bill Mitchell
I think the book is a remarkable book, and I'm glad Powells declined to buy it when I tried to sell it to them last year, because I do treasure it. I can't say that it had any influence on my taking up photography, or any influence on my work. But there's something about the images in conjunction with the text that I think gives a remarkable portrait of New England. I lived there for three years a long time ago, and the book brings it all back to me.
Same book. Yes, the essays were selected/edited by NN, I didn't mean to imply they were written by her.
IMO Strand's many other books don't come close to the effect that "TIME IN NEW ENGLAND" has, although I believe that for many people his best work was the French book.
In a sense, I have to agree with Terence that his finest work was the revolutinary photography from pre-WW1 New York. And that after that his work was good but not earth shattering. (It's 4 AM right now and I'm having trouble saying what I feel -- sorry.)
In the book Paul Strand: Essays on his Life & Work there is a very good article, "Time in New England: Creating a Usable Past", by John Rohrbach. He provides a helpful analysis of the importance of this work. In his conclusion, Rohrbach states
The prints in the Aperature edition are evocative of New England, its strength of character. Strand's later books also are inspiring for their ability to evoke a place in time.
By joining an active account of New England's history with classically framed, often understated, photogaphs, the authors demanded attention to the role of photograph as metaphor rather than illustration. Such a demand may have asked too much of their audience.
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I agree with Bill Mitchell about returning to the book after some time has passed. This has happened to me with other books or works by other photographers. As we grow we tend to find the magic in things we originally missed. The opposite is also true, of course--sometimes the initial magic fades over time.