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Alfred Stieglitz and Photography


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.Studyworld



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