From the El

Artist: Paul Strand (American, New York 1890–1976 Orgeval, France)

Date: 1915

Medium: Platinum print

Dimensions: 33.6 x 25.9 cm (13 1/4 x 10 3/16 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949

Accession Number: 49.55.221

Rights and Reproduction: © Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive.


Paul Strand was introduced to Alfred Stieglitz by his teacher Lewis Hine, and quickly became part of the coterie of painters and photographers that gathered at Stieglitz's gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue. There he was exposed to the latest trends in European vanguard art through groundbreaking exhibitions of Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, and Brancusi. Strand incorporated their abstracting compositional techniques into his work, marrying the new language of geometric surface design to his interest in street life and machine culture.

Strand's vision of the city during these years often focuses on the problematic exchange between the sweep and rigor of the urban grid with the human lives that inhabit and pass through it. From the El is a good example of this dialectical approach, with the graphic power of the ironwork and street shadows punctuated by the tiny, lone pedestrian at the upper right. Strand addresses the effects of the new urban condition obliquely here, embedding a subtle political statement within the formal structure of the image.