Paul Strand’s Photographs of Mexico

“Strand’s photographs have clearly captured an interplay of cultural and natural forces that coalesces into a common environmental mood.” — Collector Daily

Paul Strand is one of the most important photographers of the 20th century. His breakthrough work 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, and produced among the first abstract pictures made with a camera. 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 his photographic prints.

In 1932, 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  by the end of this trip, he had made over 175 negatives and 60 platinum prints. Strand selected 20 of these images for this  portfolio, which he published in 1940.

Paul Strand Virgin – San Felipe – Oaxaca Photographs of Mexico, 194o

Paul Strand Woman – Patzcuaro Photographs of Mexico, 194o

Produced in an edition of 250, Photographs of Mexico contains twenty hand-pulled photogravures printed by The New York Photogravure and Colour Company of NYC, who were highly skilled press printers of the day. For each plate, Strand customized the nuanced color of the ink. After printing, a varnish was applied by hand to each print, giving the prints a smooth, rich sheen. Twenty-seven years later Strand re-released the portfolio, under the revised name The Mexican Portfolio, in an edition of 1000.

This portfolio stands out as one of the most elegant photogravure projects ever produced and we are happy to have a copy in the collection. The photogravures in this project, in particular, benefit from being viewed when in reflected light as the hand-buffed sheen takes on fantastic qualities in particular lighting conditions.

Hand-applied varnish seen in reflected light.

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