Ms. Mickevicius’s work is titled “Paul Strand’s Peopled Landscapes: Re-reading Form and Politics in The Mexican Portfolio and Beyond.” She explains that “When I set out to do my research, I thought what remained to be illuminated in Strand’s oeuvre was the relationship between his still and moving images of the 1930s, for example, how they informed one another to forge what I believe became his distinctive political aesthetic. What I found was that The Mexican Portfolio in particular, far from being incongruous within Strand’s career as a modern photographer, both functions as showcase for his efforts to formulate this new aesthetic, and prefigures his cultural studies and films in years to come.”Emmy notes that she settled on her topic before realizing the Special Collections Research Center, where she also works in the digitization unit, has a rare copy of the first edition of The Mexican Portfolio (250 were printed, under the title Photographs of Mexico, before another 1000 copies were printed again in 1967). As she puts it, “Imagine how excited I was when I realized that my main object of study was held only a few blocks away from my apartment!”
Strand’s exemplary early work has become canonical in the history of modern American photography and modernism as a whole. He is usually associated with the earlier prints he made under the mentorship of Alfred Stieglitz in the mid-1910s, but in the 1930s, shifted from geometrically ordered, singular prints to films and to cultural “portraits” in the form of portfolios and books. The projects Strand completed in Mexico in particular signify the fruition of an investment in social causes sparked earlier in his career. His 1933 photographs of the native Tarascan people marked his return to the human figure, a subject he had largely shied away from for the better part of the 1920s. His film Redes (The Wave) was also the first of his socially motivated films, a venture he would continue upon his return to the United States in the later part of that decade.