Paul Strand’s Modern Blur

THE DAILY PIC: The great American photographer used soft focus to signify flux.

Paul Strand Overlooking Harbor, New York

THE DAILY PIC: This is Overlooking Harbor, New York, one of the lynchpin pictures in “Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography”, a landmark survey that closes this weekend at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was shot and printed in 1916, and it’s easy to be put off by its combination of pictorialist soft-focus and modernist rigor, as though the blur were nothing more than a Victorian remnant that the young photographer had to slough off before he could become his truly modern, hard self. But the more I looked at the picture–and fell in love with it–the more its soft edges reminded me of the Impressionists’ most radical painterliness and its composition recalled their bold photographic aesthetics. Strand’s blur isn’t the prettifying Vaseline of Hollywood, but an avant-garde marker of a world in flux. (Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, Tucson. Paul Strand Collection/Purchase, 76.11.7. ©2014 Paul Strand Archive/Aperture Foundation, Inc.)

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