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Alfred Stieglitz was an influential photographer who spent his

life fighting for the recognition of photography as a valid art form.

He was a pioneering photographer, editor and gallery owner who played

pivotal role in defining and shaping modernism in the United States.

(Lowe 23). He took pictures in a time when photography was considered

as only a scientific curiosity and not an art. As the controversy over

the art value of photography became widespread, Stieglitz began to

fight for the recognition of his chosen medium. This battle would last

his whole life.

Edward Stieglitz, father of Alfred, was born in Germany in 1833.

He grew up on a farm, loved nature, and was an artist at heart. Legend

has it that, independent and strong willed, Edward Stieglitz ran away

from home at the age of sixteen because his mother insisted on upon

starching his shirt after he had begged her not to (Lowe 23). Edward

would later meet Hedwig Warner and they would have their first son,

Alfred. Alfred was the first of six born to his dad Edward and mom

Hedwig. As a child Alfred was remembered as a boy with thick black

hair, large dark eyes, pale fine skin, a delicately modeled mouth with

a strong chin (Peterson 34). In 1871 the Stieglitz family lived at 14

East 60th street in Manhattan. No buildings stood between Central Park

and the Stieglitz family home. As Stieglitz got older he started to

show interest in photography, posting every photo he could find on his

bedroom wall. It wasn’t until he got older that his photography

curiosity begin to take charge of his life.

Stieglitz formally started photography at the age of nineteen,

during his first years at the Berlin Polytechnic School. At this time

photography was in its infancy as an art form. Alfred learned the fine

arts of photography by watching a local photographer in Berlin working

in the store’s dark room. After making a few pictures of his room and

himself, he enrolled in a photochemistry course. This is where his

photography career would begin. His earliest public recognition came

from England and Germany. It began in 1887 when Stieglitz won the

first of his many first prizes in a competition. The judge who gave

him the award was Dr. P.H. Emerson, then the most widely known English

advocate of photography as an art (Doty 23). Dr. Emerson later wrote

to Stieglitz about his work sent in to the competition: “It is

perhaps late for me to express my admiration of the work you sent into

the holiday competition. It was the spontaneous work in the exhibition

and I was delighted with much of it”, (Bry 11). The first photographer

organization Alfred joined while still in Berlin, was the German

Society of the Friends of Photography. After returning to the United

States 1890, Stieglitz joined the Society of Amateur Photographers of

New York. These experiences would later help him in years to


By 1902 Stieglitz had become the authority in his chosen field.

Stieglitz found that his achievements were not enough to win

recognition for photography. Finally in 1902 he founded an entirely

new photography group of his own, the Photo Secession. The focus of

the Photo Secession was the advancement of pictorial photography.

Stieglitz being the leader gathered a talented group of American

photographers headed toward the same common goal, to demonstrate

photography as an art form( Lowe 54). This was the first of many Photo

Secession shows through which Stieglitz set out and demonstrated

photography as an art. Their first Photo Secession exhibition was held

at the National Arts Club in New York. Photo Secession shows were

supported by galleries all over the world as well as Stieglitz’s own

gallery. All these events were reported in Stieglitz’s weekly magazine

Camera Work, which Stieglitz founded, edited, and published in fifty

volumes from its beginning in 1903 until its end in 1917. Although the

Photo Secession group never dissolved, it gradually diminished as an

organized group. Stieglitz continued to show new photographic work

when he believed it was important. It was all part of his fight for

photography, but the battleground and the participants had changed.

In 1917 when Stieglitz was 54 years old Georgia O’Keeffe arrived

in New York (see pict.1). This event would change Stieglitz’s life

forever. Stieglitz at first didn’t know Georgia personally but showed

her pictures at his gallery “291″. They would later meet during one of

Georgia’s shows. Soon after they meet, Alfred took Georgia up to the

Stieglitz home at Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains. Soon

Stieglitz was one of Georgia’s most eager supporters, arranging shows

even selling some of her paintings. Buying an O’Keffe was not only

expensive, but a collector needed to meet Stieglitz’s standards for

owning one ( Doty 135). In 1925 she and Stieglitz moved into the

Shelton Hotel in New York, taking an apartment on the 30th floor of

the building. They would live there for 12 years. With a spectacular

view, Georgia would begin to paint the city while Stieglitz

photographed New York.

By 1928 Georgia began to feel the need to travel and find other

sources for painting. In May of 1929, Georgia would set out by train

with her friend Beck Strand to Taos, New Mexico, a trip that would

forever change her life (Lowe 100 ). Stieglitz would not accompany

her. He remained in New York City at his Lake George residence. In

1937 Stieglitz made his last new prints (see pict.2). Stieglitz would

later die at his Lake George home on July 13, 1946.

II. About Photography

The word photography is derived from the Greek words for light

and writing (Lowe 12). A camera is a complex piece of equipment used

in photography. A camera is made up of a complex number of parts – a

box carrying a lens, diaphragm, and shutter (see pict.3) that are

arranged to throw an image of the scene to be recorded onto a

sensitive film or plate (Peterson 54). Most people think of

photography as snap and shoot, go to the store and get it developed.

However, there are many other things that are going on to make that

picture that is going into your photo album. One of the three most

important things that is needed in making a picture is a camera lens.

The lens is an image-forming device on a camera. If an object is far

away use a higher mm lens such as 1000mm. If the object is closer use

a smaller mm lens like 10 mm. You also use the lens to focus in the

object clearly. The closer the object is, the smaller the focus is.

The farther away the object is, the bigger the focus is. The next

important thing in making a picture is the shutter speed. The shutter

is the device on the camera acting as a gate controlling the duration

of time that light is allowed to pass through the lens and fall on the

film (Doty 76). Shutters help to take pictures of things moving,

without and shutter just about every thing you take a picture of would

be blurry making a pretty ugly picture. The last important thing is

the film. This determines what the picture’s color will look like.

Oftentimes, a photographer uses black and white film to show emotion,

color to show movement. There are hundreds of different kinds of film

to show different feeling in each and every photo taken by a camera.

These and other factors make professional photography a complex


III. What his art says.

Alfred Stieglitz’s involvement in photography dated from 1883,

the year he purchased a camera and enrolled in a photochemistry

course, to the year he died in 1946. When Stieglitz returned to

America from England, he found that photography, as he understood it,

hardly existed. An instrument had been put on the market shortly

before, called Kodak. The slogan sent out to advertisers reading,

“You press the button and we’ll do with the rest”. This idea sickened

Stieglitz. To Stieglitz it seemed like rotten sportsmanship (Peterson

10). Stieglitz wanted to make photography an art so Stieglitz decided,

to do something about it. Camera Notes (1897- 1903) was the most

significant American photographic journal of its time (see pict.4).

Published monthly by the Camera Club of New York and edited for most

of its life by Alfred Stieglitz, the journal embodied major changes

for american photography in general and to Stieglitz’ s career in

particular. Camera Notes signaled the beginning of the movement of

artistic photography in the United States. Over the course of the six

years that Camera Notes was published, Stieglitz witnessed the

establishment of an American standard for artistic photography and the

“dissolution of his faith in members” of popular camera clubs. Camera

Notes ushered in not only a new century, but also an entirely

different attitude toward photography (Peterson 35). This journal

represented a noble effort on the part of Stieglitz to work within the

territory of the American Camera Club movement (Norman 67). The

journal included a number of articles and photographic illustrations

he believed would inspire his readers to higher levels of picture

making and greater depths of artistic meaning (Peterson 10). Later

Stieglitz resigned from being the editor of Camera Club because of

others accused him of rule or run tactics. Stieglitz then created his

own magazine. Stieglitz had always dreamed of publishing and editing

his own independent magazine, Camera Work. In choosing the title

Stieglitz felt that he could form a growing belief in any medium.

After publishing Camera Work Stieglitz became widely recognized as an

international leader in the photographic world.

Stieglitz and others who were making photographs of the cultured

merit at the turn of the century generally termed their work pictorial

rather than artistic (Norman 45). Pictorial photography meant

precisely artistic photography in their minds, but the phrase was used

in part because it was less threatening to an established artist.

Despite this approach, pictorialists were intent upon making pictures

with their cameras, by which they meant images of pleasing value. The

word pictorial implied an association with pictures, a class of visual

phenomenon that was largely made up of fine paintings, prints and

drawings. Pictorialists worked with a narrow range of subjects, in

part because they wished to downplay the importance of the subject

matter. They would later flourish into painter photographers.

At the turn of the century, a new class of creative individuals,

called painter- photographer emerged. This group fulfilled Stieglitz’

s dream for pictorial photography. Its presence provided the movement

with individuals who were trained in the established arts and who

legitimized the artistic claims of pictorial photography by the fact

that they were willing to use the photographic medium. The very term

painter photographer was made up in reference to Frank Eugene who

worked simultaneously with Stieglitz in media for a decade. Eugene

attended a German fine arts academy, and painted theatrical portraits

of the United States. In 1889 he mounted a solo exhibition of

pictorial photographs at the Camera Club of New York, which,

pointedly, was reviewed in Camera Notes as painting photography

(Norman 23).

In conclusion, Stieglitz’s fight for photography developed into

new ideas for future generations. He continued to make his own

experiments and to defend the work of others also breaking new ground.

The magazines he edited, like the galleries he founded, swiftly became

dynamic points of contact between artist and public and a battleground

for new ideas.


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