Paul Strand seduces at Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Paul Strand, Wall Street, New York, 1915 © Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive. Fundación MAPFRE Collections

Fondation Henri Cartier Bresson has a new director Clément Chéroux, who worked for nine years at Centre Pompidou, three at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and two at MoMa, always in the photography department. He has curated thirty exhibitions and published even more books on photography and its history. The Paul Strand exhibition from the collections of the Foundation MAPFRE in Madrid, “The Balance of Forces” is his first at the foundation and he co-curated the Helen Lewitt-Henri Cartier-Bresson show downstairs with Agnès Sire, one of the founders of the center. Both shows are impeccably hung and offer great clarity.

Paul Strand, The Lusetti Family, Luzzara, Italy, 1953 © Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive. Fundación MAPFRE Collections

The first images are of New York in 1915, when Paul Strand (1890-1976) was only 25. His two mentors Alfred Stieglitz and Lewis Hine gave him a formalist and a social approach to photography. Thus the title “Balance”. And this is well illustrated in the galleries where portraits alternate with monuments in Maine, Morocco, Pyrénées orientales, Italy, Mexico and the Hebrides archipelago… Strand always surrounded himself with writers and he published a number of books  which are called “portrait-books. The first one was in New England, published in 1950 with literary texts by local authors such as Hermann Melville, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Emerson…

Paul Strand, St. Francis Church, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, 1931 © Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive. Fundación MAPFRE Collections

Strand started traveling to Mexico City in the early 1930’s, then to Moscow in 1935 and his approach became more political. He joined the American labor party and left the US for France during the McCarthy era.  While living in Orgeval just outside Paris he travelled extensively to Italy, where he published another book with Cesare Zavattini, the Hebrides with Tir A Mhurain, a book published with Basil Davidson, Morocco, Egypt, Ghana. His French book, “France in Profile”, written by Claude Roy,  “gave voice to those who’ve had no turn to speak”  in rural France. It was published in 1952.  One of the more striking pictures of the show is that of a young boy in Gondeville, Charente, shot in 1951.

Paul Strand, Young Boy, Gondeville, Charente, France, 1951 © Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive. Fundación MAPFRE Collections

When you walk downstairs to the new space inaugurated in December, you enter a green room where Helen Lewitt’s pictures of Mexico are confronted to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s. Last month it was Martin Parr’s. The room has been cleared of all partitions and there is great smoothness in the way the pictures are set. The two photographers met in New York in the spring of 1935. When Lewitt saw HCB’s photos of Mexico she decided to follow in his steps six years later.

Helen Levitt, Mexico, 1941 © Film Documents LLC, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

The dialogue between the two photographers is excellent. After working with Walker Evans and James Agee she was a video editor for Luis Buñuel. It was Anne de Villepoix who exhibited her for the first time in France in 1998.

This new era for Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson is starting at full speed with two excellent shows. Until April 23, 79 rue des Archives.

The new director Clément Chérioux

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