Land of bent grass
land of barley
land where everything is plentiful
where young men sing songs and drink ale
If I had as much as two suits of clothes,
a pair of shoes, and my fare in my pocket
I would sail for Uist
London has taken a turn to the grey. From sunrise to sundown, the metropolis’ skies are an unchangeable monochrome shade. It is not dark and leaden, foretelling rain; neither bright and eye blinding, as if you can feel the sun’s warmth underneath. It is simply grey. The city’s landscape seems to be at a standstill, with no clouds being meandered by the wind. The air is thick, full of tension and probability.
Following the city and its current mood, I decided to visit Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century at the V&A Museum. I was familiar with Strand’s work, especially with his documentary photography in Africa and the south of France. Equally skilled in portraiture and landscape, Strand’s black and white photographs capture moments, faces, objects with a mixture of objectivity, nostalgia and curiosity. The exhibition shows a wide range of his work through the years, from documentary assignments abroad to his more fine art oriented endeavours in his garden. It made me in awe of his work once again.
A cluster of photographs which resonated with me and stayed in my subconscious later on were the ones Strand took in 1954 in the Hebrides islands in Scotland. Having heard a radio programme on the Gaelic songs of South Uist, he travelled up and spent three months around the island taking more than a hundred photographs. Strand captured many of the people around their homes, sometimes casually and others as a formal portrait. He was keen to understand his subjects, their environment and the forces that moved their lives. His photographs also captured the coastal landscapes of the island, the local architecture, the fishermen’s boats and utensils. Strand managed to convey through his photographs the delicate and endangered symbiosis between men and nature, the struggle to survive at any cost against the weight of tradition. Something in the rough, sea washed landscapes or the weathered faces brought me back to my homeland in Asturias, also a maritime and isolated region of Spain with small fishing towns not so different from South Uist.
Paul Strand: Photography and Film for the 20th Century is on now until 3rd of July