Charles Sheeler Paul Strand – Manhatta and a ‘natural’ modernism

Manhatta is a 12 minute short film made in 1920 filmed/directed by Charles Sheeler and produced/directed by Paul Strand.


The relationship between film and photography.


Above: screenshot from a utube version of  Manhatta showing a view of commuters walking past Wall Street in NYC

Below: The iconic shot by Paul Strand of a similar view, possibly from a very similar location, this is Wall Street, a Palladium print from 1915, described as Strand’s first move away from pictoralism to a purer act of recording. The black rectangles of the enormous  JP Morgan building make this image much more than a simple capture, adding pathos and a sense of gloomy destiny prefiguring the great crash in the next decade, although Strand later denied that this had been deliberate.


A hymn to modernism but also the city as nature – natural phenomenon, rivers of people and tidal flow metaphors.


Link with the poetry of Walt Whitman.

poetry and metaphor – can photography and film do this?

‘The metaphors presented in Strand and Sheeler’s film are conspicuous in their literality and depth. Despite the tension between the image and written text, Strand and Sheeler’s use of the film camera, alongside the carefully selected and placed intertitles, not only offer the cinema spectator an insight into the world Whitman once belonged to, but also the one he feared for the future; a world that was drifting slowly away from democracy rather than towards it. The cinematography that reduces New York to a world of ants trapped in a self-built maze, and makes the natural elements of the city appear interchangeable with its synthetic structures, creates a landscape of metaphor as intelligent technically as it is ideologically perceptive.’

Penfold, C . Manhatta: The Art of Visual Metaphor Available at:


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