I am not an art connoisseur and I do not spend my days attending gallery openings and the like. I am a practical person, working within a budget who happens to love photography. Within the works I have studied there are four photographers that I truly love including (in no particular order) Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Josef Sudek and Paul Strand. Sadly I have never been to see an exhibit of these masters.
A few months ago while sitting on a bench waiting for my train, I spotted a billboard advertising an exhibition of Paul Strands work at the V&A here in London. The following weekend I took the family into London to be able to see a master on show. As I walked through the quiet halls surrounded by photos that I have only ever seen in books I was dumbfounded and for a time all I could do was sit and take it all in. I then began thinking about what I was seeing and why I liked it so much.
When you open a book on Paul Strand you feel a distance which you never really notice until you see his work on exhibition. The book has been printed, sometimes after the photographer's death without his/her input and the product feels distanced from reality. In an exhibit we are seeing the photos as they were designed to be seen. I am not suggesting that Paul Strand would have displayed them in the exact order or way but he took these pictures to be seen, hanging on a wall, properly printed, lighted and framed. To see his images in this way is transformational. I do not mean that these images have transformed me, but rather I have changed how I look at them.
The exhbit in the V&A was spectacular and include images from his pictorial days, his transformation into modernism and his work with film including a showing of Manhatta and Redes. Each print was carefully presented and they included some of his old cameras and pages from his wife's diary. Every aspect of his work was included even though they come from a variety of collections. Being able to see them all in this one place was astonishing. Even images that the V&A purchased and have not shown in 40 years were brought out!
If you have a chance to catch this traveling exhibit or any other photographer's work in person, I highly recommend the time. This visit has left me with an extreme curiosity to see other exhibits. While I will still cherrish my photography books, seeing the images properly printed and hung up is...transformational.