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Industry and Lifelessness

While looking through the exhibition, _Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time_, I was drawn to a small, dramatic black-and-white photograph among all the larger works of Edward Hopper: Paul Strand’s Wall Street (1915). Hopper and Strand chose similar subjects and themes. Like Hopper, Strand shows a modern American scene. 

There is no single focal point in this work. It is a scene of a street. On the street there are multiple figures, all walking away from the viewer. The figures are almost completely black and appear to be silhouettes, leaving long dark shadows behind them. The street is bathed white with sunlight, contrasting with the dark figures. Behind the people stands a building with large, rectangular windows. The building looks as though it is made of blocks of smooth, grey stone. The figures are much smaller in scale, dwarfed by the huge building.

This work can be interpreted as a comment on industry in America and the people who work in it. The building itself becomes a symbol of capitalism. Its size suggests power, while the dark windows have an ominous feel, indicating perhaps a negative view of Wall Street. The people in the print are all faceless and walking in the same direction, suggesting an oppressive, mechanical life created by capitalism. In the end, Strand communicates the relationship between people and their surroundings while also portraying a powerful message about industry.

A poem inspired by Wall Street (1915):

The air is dry and cold.
The people walk down the street.
They breathe in and steam lets out.
The light is white and blinding, but they know where to go.
Their bolts are rusty and their motor won’t start, but the routine keeps them going.
Faceless, they have no names; their only companion is a stiff shadow.
They walk ahead, their feet moving even when their brains stop.
Dark hole, deep hole, won’t you let your children come inside?

By Zoe

Paul Strand, Wall Street, New York, 1915 (printed posthumously)  91.102.2
Paul Strand, Wall Street, New York, 1915 (printed posthumously). Platinum palladium print, 10 1/8 × 12 11/16 in. (25.7 × 32.2 cm). Edition no. 21/100. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Michael E. Hoffman in honor of Sondra Gilman  91.102.2