In the autumn of 1932, Paul Strand had separated from both his mentor, Alfred Stieglitz and his wife Rebecca. With the growing need to concentrate exclusively on his still photography, he contacted Carlos Chávez, then chief of the Department of Fine Arts in the secretariat of Education in Mexico, to help arrange an official invitation to work in Mexico. Over the next few years, Strand made several trips to various Mexican states to photograph. The Mexico photographs acted as a transition for Strand from formalism in landscape and portraiture to a new social realism imbued with a fine art approach and technique.
This portfolio is the second edition of this work. The photogravures were hand printed with great skill by Andersen Lamb Company, of Brooklyn in an edition of 1000 copies. Strand customized the inks, fine tuning the color depending on the image, almost as if he were printing them in his darkroom. Like the first edition, the photogravures are varnished to deepen tone. But unlike the first edition however, the varnish did not yellow. Both editions were printed by the most skilled gravure pressmen of the time, producing flawless photogravures that are rich and extremely detailed.
Sequencing played a major roll in the portfolio, the first image is Landscape, Near Saltillo, Mexico, 1932. It is a distant view of a white adobe structure seen through cactus and brush. The sequence moves from architectural studies of churches and vernacular buildings to the interior of the church and the religious statues, to the portraits of the unnamed people who inhabit these places. The sequence moves back and forth, back and forth so that the viewer begins to understand the lives of these people.
The actual production of the original portfolio was first suggested by Lee Strasberg of the Group Theatre and published under the imprint of Virginia Stevens, Strand’s second wife and an actress with the Group Theatre. Strand said of the first portfolio "The thing that was original about this portfolio was that it was a conscious attempt to see if one could make reproductions which were so close to the originals – the originals being platinum prints – that they were good enough to be framed. That I think had not been done before. And I chose gravure as the one medium that I thought was possible to do that job."
Stange, Maren, Robert Adams, and Alan Trachtenberg. Paul Strand: Essays on His Life and Work. New York: Aperture, 1990.
Roth Andrew et al. The Book of 101 Books : Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century. PPP Editions in Association with Ruth Horowitz LLC 2001.
Parr Martin and Gerry Badger. 2004. The Photobook : A History. Volume I. London: Phaidon.