Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F , Case X, Shelf 998, Box C

Photographs of Mexico

Photograph
1932 (photographed)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Paul Strand is one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, whose breakthrough experiments in the 1910s heralded photography’s importance as a modern art form. Early in his career he broke with the soft-focus and Impressionist-inspired ‘Pictorialist’ style of photography, and produced among the first abstract pictures made with a camera. However, it was his portraits of ordinary people that increased his popular appeal. His questioning attitude led him to radically change his work at several points in his career, always with the highest ambitions for the quality of photographic prints and books at the forefront of his thinking. Strand was a committed Marxist with a keen interest in geo-politics. The political climate of American in the 1950s meant that he was inevitably caught up in Senator McCarthy's anti-Communist investigations and was forced to travel, leaving America to live in France. He embarked on a series of book projects, collaborating with various authors, focused around the theme of ancient cultures facing monumental transformations and the heroic endurance of the human spirit.

In 1932, Paul Strand was invited to Mexico by Carlos Chavez, the director of the fine arts department at the Secretariat of Public Education in Mexico. At this time, the Mexican government was concerned with demonstrating a national culture that was reflective of a more modern, twentieth-century Mexico, with its changing social and physical landscapes. The invitation extended to Strand was to document this new environment, and over the next two years he travelled around Mexico photographing churches, religious imagery, local communities and the land. Strand became absorbed in Mexican culture and even had an exhibition of his photographs in Mexico City, which was free of charge and visited by many local people. By the end of this trip, he had made over 175 negatives and 60 platinum prints. Strand selected 20 of these images for a portfolio, which he published in 1940 as Photographs of Mexico. Produced in an edition of 250, it contains hand-pulled photogravures, which were printed by The New York Photogravure and Colour Company of NYC, who were highly skilled press printers of the day. After printing, a varnish was applied by hand, giving the prints a smooth sheen. Twenty-seven years later Strand re-released the portfolio, under the revised name The Mexican Portfolio, in an edition of 1000. The portfolio being proposed for acquisition here is a first edition version from 1940, rarer and of better quality than the later reprint.


object details
Category
Object Type
Additional TitleWomen of Santa Anna, Michoacan (generic title)
Materials and Techniques
Hand-pulled photogravure
Brief Description
Hand-pulled photogravure by Paul Strand, 'Women of Santa Anna, Michoacan', 1932 from the 'Photographs of Mexico' portfolio. 1st edition, published 1940 as an edition of 250.
Physical Description
Black and white photograph depicting female figures in traditional Mexican shawls standing in the doorway of a stone building on a cobbled street. The figure furthest to the back holds an infant.
Dimensions
  • Paper height: 404mm
  • Paper width: 317mm
  • Image height: 128mm
  • Image width: 162mm
Styles
Credit line
Purchase funded by the Photographs Acquisition Group
Object history
This portfolio was published by Virginia Stevens (New York), 1940, in an edition of 250. It contains 20 hand-pulled photogravures of varying sizes. The portfolio was re-published in 1967 by Da Capo Press (New York) in an edition of 1000.
Subject depicted
Place Depicted
Summary
Paul Strand is one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, whose breakthrough experiments in the 1910s heralded photography’s importance as a modern art form. Early in his career he broke with the soft-focus and Impressionist-inspired ‘Pictorialist’ style of photography, and produced among the first abstract pictures made with a camera. However, it was his portraits of ordinary people that increased his popular appeal. His questioning attitude led him to radically change his work at several points in his career, always with the highest ambitions for the quality of photographic prints and books at the forefront of his thinking. Strand was a committed Marxist with a keen interest in geo-politics. The political climate of American in the 1950s meant that he was inevitably caught up in Senator McCarthy's anti-Communist investigations and was forced to travel, leaving America to live in France. He embarked on a series of book projects, collaborating with various authors, focused around the theme of ancient cultures facing monumental transformations and the heroic endurance of the human spirit.



In 1932, Paul Strand was invited to Mexico by Carlos Chavez, the director of the fine arts department at the Secretariat of Public Education in Mexico. At this time, the Mexican government was concerned with demonstrating a national culture that was reflective of a more modern, twentieth-century Mexico, with its changing social and physical landscapes. The invitation extended to Strand was to document this new environment, and over the next two years he travelled around Mexico photographing churches, religious imagery, local communities and the land. Strand became absorbed in Mexican culture and even had an exhibition of his photographs in Mexico City, which was free of charge and visited by many local people. By the end of this trip, he had made over 175 negatives and 60 platinum prints. Strand selected 20 of these images for a portfolio, which he published in 1940 as Photographs of Mexico. Produced in an edition of 250, it contains hand-pulled photogravures, which were printed by The New York Photogravure and Colour Company of NYC, who were highly skilled press printers of the day. After printing, a varnish was applied by hand, giving the prints a smooth sheen. Twenty-seven years later Strand re-released the portfolio, under the revised name The Mexican Portfolio, in an edition of 1000. The portfolio being proposed for acquisition here is a first edition version from 1940, rarer and of better quality than the later reprint.

Collection
Accession Number
E.2643:7-2016

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record createdJune 15, 2016
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