Paul Strand

I just finished watching the documentary Strand: Under the Dark Cloth. The commentary went “[Late in life] Paul Strand went to Ghana… where he used a handheld camera for the first time.” Yeah, what looks to be Graflex RB single lens reflex

Cataracts waylaid him briefly in his old age but still he printed – trying to direct his wife Hazel in the darkroom (operations restored his vision and he never drove again, but immediately returned to the darkroom).
Paul Strand was a much younger contemporary of Alfred Stieglitz, and the young Strand at first emulated the pictorialists he saw at the 291 gallery. He later moved to formal abstractions in his images and helped define early American modernism in photography. There is an interesting write-up on the Metropolitan Museum site.
Strand looms large in the world of photogravure. Stieglitz’s seminal magazine Camera Work reproduced several of Strand’s images in photogravure, the final issue being devoted almost entirely to Strand’s work. The quality of the photogravures in Camera Work is said to be outstanding.
In 1940, Paul Strand issued a portfolio of twenty photogravures entitled Photographs of Mexico in an edition of 250. In 1967, Strand reissued the work from the original steel faced copper plates as The Mexican Portfolio in an edition of 1,000. Published by Da Capo Press, with the photogravures printed by the Andersen Lamb Company, of Brooklyn, on Rives BFK paper. Beth Moon observed when we sat down to view them with Mark Nelson and his friend Richard that the photogravures seemed to be varnished. Mark later found a reference to a letter by Strand confirming this. The above note indicates the varnish used in the 1940 edition has in many cases since darkened. The varnish in the 1967 portfolio in my possession seems quite clear. Aperture has available six of the images in an edition of 350 printed by Jon Goodman, from the original plates.
I picked up the 1967 portfolio (said by Strand in the preface to exceed the quality of the 1940 edition – but perhaps that is marketing) to have an example of outstanding photogravure work to set a goal, that is probably unachievable by me in my lifetime, of quality for the process. 
Various searches on Google yield interesting articles about Strand and photogravures. Anne Hammond’s article on Photographic Art and Gravure and Letterpress: A Comparative Study of Paul Strand and Ansel Adams being worthy of a read. A reprint of an article about Jon Goodman by Andrew Wilkes that appeared in Aperture #133 is also worth reading.
I first saw a reference citing The Mexican Portfolio as an outstanding example in photogravure in the excellent text Copper Plate Photogravure: Demystifying the Process.  Amazon.com indicates I purchased that text on July 5, 2007. I wonder what led me to do that?

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