Introduction

Alfred Stieglitz was an influential figure in American photography, shaping the medium and its place in the art world. Born in 1864, Stieglitz began his career as a photographer in the late 19th century, when photography was still considered a relatively new and emerging art form. Over the course of his career, Stieglitz pushed the boundaries of photography, exploring its potential as a means of artistic expression and challenging traditional notions of what constituted a photograph.

Early Years and Pictorialism

Stieglitz’s early photography work was strongly influenced by the Pictorialist movement, which sought to elevate photography to the status of fine art. He embraced soft-focus techniques and manipulated the printing process to create dreamlike, atmospheric images. Stieglitz often experimented with the subject matter, capturing a wide range of scenes, from urban landscapes to portraits of fellow artists and friends. Through his work, Stieglitz aimed to convey emotions and evoke a response from his viewers.

Camera Work and the Photo-Secession

In 1902, Stieglitz founded Camera Work, a highly influential photography journal that showcased the work of both American and European photographers. The journal played a crucial role in promoting photography as a legitimate art form, and in shaping the direction of American photography. It featured essays on artistic photography, critiques, and beautifully reproduced photographs. Camera Work became a platform for Stieglitz and other like-minded photographers, forming a collective known as the Photo-Secession.

Modernism and Gallery 291

As the early 20th century progressed, Stieglitz embraced the modernist movement, which emphasized experimentation and challenging artistic conventions. He opened Gallery 291 in 1905, showcasing works by the avant-garde artists of the time, including Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne. Stieglitz played a significant role in introducing European modernism to America, and his gallery became a hub of artistic activity in New York City. Alongside the exhibitions, Stieglitz continued to exhibit his own photographs, further establishing his legacy as both a photographer and curator.

The Steerage and Straight Photography

One of Stieglitz’s most iconic works, “The Steerage,” captured a moment of serendipity on his voyage to Europe in 1907. This photograph is seen as a landmark in the development of modernist photography due to its innovative composition and depiction of social contrasts. It marked a turning point for Stieglitz, as he began to move away from the Pictorialist style towards what would later be known as “straight photography.” Stieglitz’s focus shifted to capturing reality in a straightforward manner, free from excessive manipulation or soft-focus effects.

Legacy and Influence

Alfred Stieglitz’s influence on American photography cannot be overstated. His determination to establish photography as a legitimate art form, his role in promoting modernism, and his commitment to creating a community for photographers have left an indelible mark on the field. Stieglitz’s work continues to resonate with contemporary photographers, and his contributions to the medium are celebrated in exhibitions and collections worldwide.

To learn more about Alfred Stieglitz and his contributions to American photography, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website or explore the extensive collection of his works at the Stieglitz Collection.