The pioneering American photographer Paul Strand had a unique ability to capture a particularly dignified spirit in the people and places he photographed. His work moved from New England fishing villages to the rural villages of southern Italy and the outer hebrides of Scotland where he shot serious, beautifully composed portraits of men and woman and children.
These sitters gaze unflinchingly at the viewer as if to say “This is who I am, this is what I am.” Part of the appeal of Strand’s photos is the attention of detail paid to his subjects’ modest clothing. Much like his German peer August Sanders, Strand was a socialist who saw his mission as documenting the way of life of everyday people the world over.
It’s telling that when he asked to photograph a small girl in the Italian village of Lugazza in 1953 that the girl wanted to put on her Sunday best, but Strand insisted she wear the farming clothing she had on when he saw her the day before. It was important for him to document the way the clothes reflected the lifestyle and essence of the people and the place. The result is a extraordinary portfolio of people who exuded a unique regional and now lost manner of dress.
One of the most compelling aspects of the clothing in Strand’s photos is the texture. While modern clothing is heavily refined into soft, light and and largely digitally printed rather than woven patterns its refreshing to see these more coarsely woven garments.
To achieve the same affect today you have to look at the brands that are returning to the older methods of production and traditional factories. Many of these are made using older dyeing techniques and smaller, irregular looms creating that feel of depth and texture. The other way to give tribute to the layered workwear of the men photographed without moving into costume territory is to play with the tonality: various shades of blue, indigo and mossy green work together for a duotone look that would work in a variety of styles.