"I've always had an interest in the things that make a place what it
is, which means not exactly like any other place and yet related to
- Paul Strand, Sixty Years of Photographs, p. 23.
Recently, public attention has been focused on Paul Strand's work from his early Modernist period, the era just prior to and during World War I. While clearly instrumental in the foundation of his vision, this body of work was followed by five equally significant decades of picture making, all of which contributed further to his artistic maturation.
After the mid-1920s, Strand reevaluated the direction of his work, moving away from his interest in American modernism which he felt was at the heart of society's disintegration and toward a new enthusiasm for portraiture - both of a place and its people. In a sense he was taking a step back, looking at his work of the 1910s, such as White Fence, Port Kent, New York, 1916. "It was very alive, very American, very much part of the country," Strand said of the picture. 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 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. In the spring and fall of 1952, Strand produced the work for what would become Un Paese. Published in 1955, the book was a collaboration with the screen writer Cesare Zavattini. The sequence of images of the town and its people culminates with his portrait of the Lusettis, The Family, Luzzara, a family of tenant farmers set against the backdrop of their modest home. Zavattini's text explores the experiences of everyday life for the community of Luzzara.
Strand would later describe his post-war work, "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." As what is considered by many to be his 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. 33, 32.)
Approximately fifteen prints of this image are known to exist. This includes, according to the Strand Archive, 5 x 6in. 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 10in. 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, Zrich.