Portraying a Dehumanised Period

Photograph by/Paul Strand Image Source/The J Paul Getty Museum

Photograph by/Paul Strand and Image Source/The J Paul Getty Museum

This article was originally published in May 2016.

Legendary photographer, Walker Evans once said, “I remember coming across Paul Strand’s Blind Woman when I was very young, and that really bowled me over…It is a very powerful picture. I saw it in the New York Public Library file of Alfred Steiglitz’s journal Camera Work , and I remember going out of there over stimulated: That’s the stuff, that’s the thing to do. It charged me up.” In this process, Strand used a large format camera with a special prismatic lens angled at 90° to make several street portraits. It shows a blind woman on the streets of New York wearing a placard below a license pin numbered 2622, which allowed her to beg. The labeling system in that era was a way to control the ‘outcasts’ of society by identifying them publicly. This method aimed at making people like her, an object of public’s pity so that passersby would give them money.

Strand, who was highly influenced by Alfred Steiglitz and Charles Sheeler, focused on creating simple images and avoiding deep infused meanings. His desire was to create photographs that were not symbolic, but visually appealing. In the case of this photo, he has shot it in such a way that one does not immediately notice the ‘branding’. Instead, you simply sees a portrait of a blind woman. One could relate the condition of this woman to that of the Jews in Nazi Germany who were forced to wear a yellow star as way of identifying their community.

Tags: Paul Strand, Blind Woman, outcast, Alfred Steiglitz, Charles Sheeler