Work by one of the most important photographers of the 20th century is gifted to Canadian Photography Institute

Paul Strand, Espalier, Pear Tree, France, 1951, Gelatin silver print. Gift of an anonymous donor, 2017.  Photo: NGC © Aperture Foundation, Inc., Paul Strand Archive


Masterful chronicler of people and places, American photographer and filmmaker Paul Strand (1890–1976) was one of the most important photographers of the early twentieth century.

635 of his gelatin silver prints were recently given to the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada by three Canadian donors. The prints, taken over sixty years, cover the full range of Strand’s practice from his early forays into modernism during the mid-teens of the twentieth century, to his trips to Mexico, Egypt, Ghana, Morocco, France, Italy, Romania, the Gaspé, the Hebrides, and the Southwest and Northeast of the United States. The prints also offer a superb exploration of the plant life in the gardens of Strand’s home in Orgeval, France, where he lived from the 1950s until his death in 1976.

Left: Robert Bourdeau, Tarn, France, 1990, printed 1991, Gelatin silver print, 32.7 x 25.7 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo: NGC © Robert Bourdeau / Right: Bertrand Carrière, Rivière-à-Claude, Gaspésie, 2010 (De la série Après Strand) Pigment print, 81.3 x 101,6 cm. Photo : Courtesy of the artist © Bertrand Carrière


Strand’s work served as an inspiration to successive generations of photographers, including Canadians Robert Bourdeau and Bertrand Carrière. Bourdeau admired Strand’s understanding of the photographic medium, eloquent style of expression and technical mastery. Bourdeau and Strand corresponded in the 1960s, mainly on technical matters. Carrière also admired Strand’s work and, in 2011, retraced the 1929 and 1936 journeys Strand made to the Gaspé, capturing some of the same views. Carrière published a selection of his photographs from this rediscovery of Strand’s Gaspé work in his book Après Strand.  

Born in New York City as Nathaniel Paul Stransky, Strand studied under the American documentary photographer Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture School in New York from 1907 to 1909. He made a short-lived attempt at earning a living as a commercial photographer in 1912 before pursuing his artistic calling full-time.

Paul Strand, Portrait of a Girl, Gaspé, 1936, printed 1950s Gelatin silver print. Gift of an anonymous donor, 2017.  Photo: NGC © Aperture Foundation, Inc., Paul Strand Archive


Throughout his career, Strand moved through a variety of approaches in his picture making — from Pictorialism to documentary to Abstraction — until finally developing a unique approach that integrated his interest in humankind and his love of nature. At the same time, Strand paid close attention to detail and surface texture in his eloquently composed and finely printed images.

Canadian Photography Institute now has the most significant holdings of Paul Strand photographs in Canada owing to this anonymous gift. The donation also complements the Institute’s significant holdings of photographs by Strand’s contemporary, Walker Evans.   

To share this article, please click on the arrow in the menu bar at the top right of the page. ​

About the Author