Paul Strand’s Living Labor

In 1932, Paul Strand travelled to Mexico. The work he completed during his two-year stay has framed our histories of Strand’s practice in the 1930s and 1940s as a history of his turning away from his commitment to formalism in the 1920s. Paul Strand’s Living Labor challenges this history through an examination of The Wave, a documentary film Strand shot in 1934. A study of labor struggles in post-revolutionary Mexico, The Wave, this essay argues, reanimates Strand’s investigation of the relationship between man and machine evident in his first film, Manhatta (1921). Focusing on Strand’s obsession with the close-up and the portrait, Paul Strand’s Living Labor organizes a history of Strand’s work that rejects the binaries framing our studies of Strand: between New York and Mexico, film and photography, modernism and documentary.

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