I like to photograph people who have strength and dignity in their faces, whatever life has done to them, it hasn't destroyed them. I gravitate toward people like that.
Following his modernist works in the 1920s, Paul Strand reevaluated the direction of his work, moving toward a new enthusiasm for portraiture - both of a place and its people. In some ways he was taking a step back, looking at his images of the 1910s, such as White Fence, Port Kent, New York, 1916. 'It was very alive,' Strand said of that picture, 'very American, very much part of the country.' However, as Strand set out to record Mexico in the 1930s and then Europe in the 1940s and 1950s, he delved deeper into this idea of creating a more complete portrait of a place (Sixty Years of Photographs, pp. 23, 34).
At the same time, the sociological element in Strand's work was beginning to develop. During his travels in the 1930s in New Mexico and Mexico he grew fascinated with the idea of the basic characteristics of a town or community - the people, the architecture, the landscape - which together are integral in capturing the essence of a place. Here, his involvement in leftist politics also began to evolve. Later in the '30s and '40s he worked on many socially conscious film projects including The Plow That Broke the Plains, produced for the Resettlement Administration.
In 1950, together with Hazel Kingsbury who became his third wife a year later, Strand set out to photograph in France, seeking what he described, 'to find and show many of the elements that make this village a particular place where particular people live and work.' They found the village not in France but in Luzzara, Italy, by the Po River. Accompanied by a native resident named Valentino Lusetti, Strand chose to photograph his Italian comrade’s family. Pictured are Valentino’s mother, Anna, by then a widow. Surrounding the doorway are Valentino’s brothers: Bruno, Guerrino, Afro and Nino. The image, a masterpiece in composition as much as in its poetic sensibility, was subsequently featured in Strand’s book Un Paese (A Village), a visual journey of the town and its people. Published in 1955, the book was a collaboration with the screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, whose text explored the experiences of everyday life for the community of Luzzara.
Considered by many to be Strand’s most important Post-War work, The Family, Luzzara, visually speaks to all the associations of people to place that Strand had been searching and striving for since his 1944 work Time in New England (ibid, pp. 32, 33).
Approximately fifteen prints of this image are known to exist. This includes, according to the Strand Archive, 5 x 6 inch contact prints in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Hallmark Collection; The Amon Carter Museum of Art, Fort Worth, Texas; and The Cleveland Museum of Art. In 1953 Strand purchased his first enlarger and began making 8 x 10 inch enlargements. Enlargements of this image would have been made later in the 1950s and examples are in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; George Eastman House, Rochester, New York; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There are four prints known in private collections, including one previously owned by Galerie Zur Stockeregg, Zurich.