Man, Tenancingo de Degollado

Media - 2016.40.12 - SAAM-2016.40.12_1 - 124251
Copied Paul Strand, Man, Tenancingo de Degollado, 1933, printed ca. 1933, platinum print, sheet and image: 5 78 × 8 38 in. (14.9 × 21.3 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2016.40.12, © 1940, Aperture Foundation / Paul Strand Estate

Artwork Details

Man, Tenancingo de Degollado
1933, printed ca. 1933
Not on view
sheet and image: 5 78 × 8 38 in. (14.9 × 21.3 cm)
© 1940, Aperture Foundation / Paul Strand Estate
Credit Line
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment
Mediums Description
platinum print
Object Number

Artwork Description

Paul Strand (1890-1976) was introduced to photography as a student of Lewis Hine, a pioneer of social documentary photography in early twentieth-century America. In 1907, they visited Alfred Stieglitz's 291 Gallery in New York City to see and exhibition of the Photo-Secession, a movement that promoted photography as a fine art. That was the day Strand decided to become a photographer. His first experiments with a movement and abstraction were exhibited at 291 and published in Stieglitz's journal Camera Work, but Strand broke with Stieglitz in the 1920s to advocate for straight photography--capturing a scene in sharp focus and great detail--and for the camera as a tool of social reform.

Strand traveled to New Mexico with artists John Marin and Georgia O'Keeffe in the late 1920s. In 1932 he wrote to composer Carlos Chávez, who had been recently appointed director of the fine arts department of the Secretariat of Public Education, about working in Mexico. Chávez invited Strand to produce a series of films for the revolutionary government. His film Redes (known in the U.S. as The Waves) was released in 1936, followed by a folio of gravure prints, Photographs of Mexico, published in 1940. The structure of the series, in which each image refers to and introduces the next, is regarded as an early, innovative example of photographic sequencing. Man, Tenancingo de Degollado is eighteenth in a sequence of twenty, which the artist Miguel Covarrubias described as "the finest photographs ever made of Mexico."

Man, Tenancingo de Degollado is one of Strand's signal, iconic images. It was captured surreptitiously, using a camera with a right-angle lens; a technique he adopted for street work so his subjects would not know they were being photographed. He gravitated toward people "who have strength and dignity in their faces," he said. "Whatever life has done to them, it hasn't destroyed them." Here, his far-seeing subject is emblematic of Strand's dual objectives in Mexico--to document the unique character of its people and advance the revolutionary cause of its government.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2017