Photograph by Paul Strand

I felt they were all people whom life had battered into some sort of extraordinary interest and, in a way, nobility.

Paul Strand

Even if she could see, the woman in Paul Strand’s pioneering image might not have known she was being photographed. Strand wanted to capture people as they were, not as they projected themselves to be, and so when documenting immigrants on New York City’s Lower East Side, he used a false lens that allowed him to shoot in one direction even as his large camera was pointed in another. The result feels spontaneous and honest, a radical departure from the era’s formal portraits of people in stilted poses. Strand’s photograph of the blind woman, who he said was selling newspapers on the street, is candid, with the woman’s face turned away from the camera. But Strand’s work did more than offer an unflinching look at a moment when the nation was being reshaped by a surge of immigrants. By depicting subjects without their knowledge—or consent—and using their images to promote social awareness, Strand helped pave the way for an entirely new form of documentary art: street photography.

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