The photographer to Dr. Erhard Frommhold, Verlag der Kunst, Dresden
Acquired by the present owners from the above, 2006
This image by Strand, his only overtly political photograph, appeared on the January 1939 cover of TAC (Theatre Arts Committee), a journal of the performing arts with an anti-fascist emphasis that was published in New York. The accompanying essay by Dashiell Hammett is titled 'A Christmas for Refugees,' and contains the line, 'Humanity must not be crucified on a swastika.'
It is likely that this image was produced specifically for TAC. The milieu of the Theatre Arts Committee was a natural for Strand, who had received his initial photographic training from social reformer Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture School. During the global political and social upheaval of the 1920s and 1930s, Strand had embraced Marxism and joined a number of socially-committed organizations, including the Photo League and the Group Theatre. These collectives, which promoted artistic endeavor as a force for political change, provided the platform for what would ultimately be the fullest expression of Strand's progressive political views--filmmaking (The Wave, 1934; The Plow That Broke the Plains, 1936; and Native Land, 1942).
The Theatre Arts Committee was organized in 1937 by prominent show business people to raise funds for the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War. Formally established in May 1938, the Committee mounted politically-oriented theatrical and musical performances through its Cabaret TAC, radio shows, and other live shows and concerts on the East and West coasts.
'Swastika' (a. k. a. 'Hitlerism') recalls collagist and propagandist John Heartfield's anti-fascist photomontages of the late 1920s and 1930s, published regularly in the weekly Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (Workers' Illustrated Paper), the graphically-adventurous leftist newspaper. Strand visited the Soviet Union in 1935 at the suggestion of the Group Theatre's Harold Clurman, and likely encountered the publication during his visit. Strand was an admirer of Heartfield's work, and it is certain that he saw the artist's 1937 exhibit in at the Photo League. Reproduced often during World War II, Strand's 'Swastika' was largely forgotten afterwards. In an interview in 1975, Strand admitted regret in not having chosen to publish it more often.
Prints of this image are scarce. As of this writing, only two other prints of this image have been offered at auction--in these rooms on 25 April 1990, Photographs from the Collection of Graham Nash, Sale 6003, Lot 261, and 26 May 2006, at Villa Grisbach, Auktion 133, Lot 1303.
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