Camera Position 14 : Strand’s “Family” Revisited

In Camera Position #8, we looked at Paul Strand’s “The Family, Luzzara, Italy, 1953”. Listener Don Bricker wrote in to note that there are, in fact, two different images of this photograph. The idea that Strand “directed” this image by changing the content in an important way should be considered when we think about how we see the photograph.

“The Family” Luzzara, Italy, 1953
Photographs by Paul Strand

7 thoughts on “Camera Position 14 : Strand’s “Family” Revisited”

  1. I have been doing a lot of family portraits recently using my 4×5 and really enjoy it. The effect of ‘presence’ of a LF camera is one of the returns in exchange for carrying the heavy gear, operating, setup etc. In the digicam snap age, people seem delighted to have a good family picture taken of them (I hand out Polaroids immediately).

    I am trying to avoid the “directed portrait” as much as I can and it works very well for me. When I did commissioned work I of course directed portraits too. Now I am much more comfortable with letting things fall into place the natural way and I feel/hope it shows in the photo. What do you think is the significance of directing portraits over time? Has the notion of the photographer imposing herself diminished somewhat over time?

    Lastly, given his assumed role in the family, not featuring the oldest son in the door seems completely unjustifiable to me. Maybe other family members were also not featured? The two versions raise all sorts of questions (are there any daughters not shown, for example?). Would be interesting to know more about how these photos came about.

  2. Fixed it (sort of) for Internet Exploder… It should look at least something like the design now.

    Thanks, Dirk!

  3. On the Strand photographs; you raise some interesting points. First off, I think that the large camera really does help you get something different from what you would otherwise get with anything smaller. The size and “presence” of the camera suggests that the photograph is an “event” that has greater significance than a more casual photograph.

    As far as the “directed” image and whether it still has significance, I think that this has to do a lot with intent. I think what’s interesting about Strand’s portraits is that he controls who we see and how we see them. The whole idea of the “directorial mode” in photography was first defined by A.D. Coleman in the mid 1970s (see: ) but was in use long before that. Moreover, it’s resurfaced in recent years in the work of photographers like Gregory Crewdson ( ). The difference is that now, photographers seem to want us to know that something is afoot… that they have altered reality to fit their needs and desires.

    With Strand, we see a photographer subtley manipulating how we see what they are showing us. Of course, we have no way of really knowing what was going on in the family or why they are posed like that; all we have is the image itself.

  4. Concerning the picture “The Family”. I prefer the one with the man satanding next to ‘Mom’. He adds a sense of mystery & his presence is a bit odd even.

  5. I like the one without the man in the doorway better, I think. Hmm. I also listen to your Photo History class. I’m not listening to the current ones yet, but I’m making my way. Thank you so much for everything you do.

  6. Thanks for posting, Neal.

    I think the image without the man in the doorway is more enigmatic, somehow. Even though I like the compositional element of having him there, the space created by his absence is pretty powerful.

    Thanks and thanks for listening!


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