Paul Strand was an innovator and discoverer of new forms and concepts of photographic expression. From the experiments with Cubism and abstraction in his formative years, to mid-career social and humanist concerns with still photography and cinema, to the deeply reflective images of his garden in Orgeval, France in his twilight years, Strand created significant bodies of work exemplified by a devotion to craft and vision.
The decade of the 1920s was for Strand an important period of investigation for image making. After Strand served in the Army as an X-ray technician in 1918-1919, he found himself slow to regain the momentum he attained with his work from the mid-1910s that was championed by his mentor and friend Alfred Stieglitz. Encouraged to return to his photographic activity with renewed energy, Strand replaced his Ensign Reflex plate camera with a large format 8x10 Korona and began to explore the world, taking advantage of the camera’s full potential of rendering with exquisite detail and rich tonality. Demonstrating these new explorations are images from Strand’s 1919 trip to Nova Scotia, where he photographed the landscape and close-ups of rocks, as well as his later detail views of nature taken in Maine in 1928-1929.
In 1920 Strand met Rebecca ‘Beck’ Salsbury at an alumni event for the Ethical Culture School. Both had graduated from the School -- Strand in 1909 and Rebecca in 1911. The two quickly realized they shared similar interests and Rebecca soon became a willing subject before his camera’s lens. In January of 1922, Paul and Rebecca were married and Strand’s portraits of her continued with an expressed intimacy not immediately apparent in the earlier portraits from 1920-1921. Although Strand made a few photographs of Rebecca nude during their marriage, the most intriguing and emotional images were of Rebecca photographed unsettlingly close, without props, and with mostly her head, face and shoulders in the frame, as in the present lot. In such portraits there is an implied nudity through the dense composition, reflecting the intimacy of lovemaking.
Strand’s portraits of Rebecca spanned from 1920, the year they met to 1932, the year before their marriage ended, though most of the images were made in 1920-1923 in New York and in 1930-1932 in New Mexico. As a whole, the project represented a departure from Strand’s usual objectivity in favor of a more personal approach and, perhaps because of this, Strand was not entirely comfortable showing the photographs publicly for many years. In the end, the portraits of Rebecca would be the last time Strand used his art to explore any aspect of a private, personal relationship.
Rebecca, New York, 1923 is a superb example from this intimate group of portraits. A beautiful contact print on platinum paper, it is one of five vintage platinum prints extant, two of which reside in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Arizona.
We are grateful to Anthony Montoya for his assistance in providing this catalogue note.