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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
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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