As a youth in New York, Strand attended the Ethical Culture School where Louis Hine, the social documentary photographer, taught science and photography. Hine often took his students to Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery to view some of the most progressive art of the day, including photography. By 1916 Strand’s own work was being exhibited by Stieglitz, and he had embraced the principles of “straight photography” in which, as he said, “honesty no less than intensity of vision” could be expressed “without tricks of process or manipulation.”
In the early 1930s Strand and his wife spent their summers working in Taos, New Mexico where there was an artists’ colony that included the painters Georgia O’Keeffe and John Marin. Strand turned his camera to the adobe architecture, the ghost towns, and the stark landscape of the American southwest, recording it all with the lucid integrity for which he had become well-known. In the summer of 1932, his last at Taos, Strand made many portraits of his friends, including a series of seventeen of Nancy Thompson as a birthday present for her mother Cornelia. The direct engagement between the girl and the camera and the subtle gradation of tones, enhanced by being printed on platinum paper, are qualities typical of Strand’s portraits.