Alfred Stieglitz (StEEglits)

Alfred Stieglitz was an American photographer and promoter for modern art born 1864 in Hoboken, New Jersey who was actively trying to make photography recognizable as an art-form alongside mediums such as painting and sculpture. He was also known for his New York art galleries in the early 20th century; the most well-known being the 291 gallery. With his interest in the avant-garde culture, Stieglitz was able to introduce many similar European artists to the U.S. through his exhibits.
In his youth, Stieglitz’s father was able to stay home and play an active role in seeing that Stieglitz was well-educated by enrolling him in the best private school in New York. In 1882 Stieglitz began studying mechanical engineering in Berlin but later changed to photography after enrolling in a chemistry class taught by Herman Wilhelm Vogel. Vogel was a scientist and researcher in the early development of photography. Stieglitz found a way to challenge himself academically but as the same time was offered a creative outlet by Vogel who introduced him to photography. He soon after met Adolf Von Menzel and Wilhelm Hasemann who inspired him to take photographs based directly from nature. He traveled all over Europe, with his first camera, taking many photographs of landscape and peasants along the countrysides. In 1884 he began collecting books on photography and using them as a way to develop his own ideas and style. In 1887 he wrote his first article for the new magazine The American Amateur Photographer. He was later offered co-editor of the magazine which allowed him to talk about photography as a modern art-form. This marked the beginning in writing about and promoting photography in magazines for Stieglitz.

In 1896 he succeeded in aiding to form the Camera Club of New York which was original broken up into the Society of Amateur Photography and New York Camera Club. At the time photography was still seen as a mechanical and chemical process that didn’t involve any kind of creativity. Stieglitz used the Camera Club as a forum to help in convincing the public that photography was an art-form worthy in comparison to other art mediums like painting.

Eventually Stieglitz didn’t enjoy the way the Camera Club was being run so he and several like-minded photographers broke away from the group and formed the Photo-Secession. At the time galleries that showcased photography were being judged by painters and other artists, but no photographers. Stieglitz wanted to open an exhibit for photography to be judged solely by other photographers. The Photo-Secession group was able to hold an exhibition for their work in a spaced donated by Edward Steichen called the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (which was later shut down then reopened as the 291 Gallery). Stieglitz also published an independent magazine of photography that echoed the same artistic standards as the Photo-Secession called Camera Work. He made the following statement about the Photo-Secession in Camera Work:

"So many are the enquiries as to the nature and aims of the Photo- Secession and requirements of eligibility to membership therein, that we deem it expedient to give a brief résumé of the character of this body of photographers.

The object of the Photo-Secession is: to advance photography as applied to pictorial expression; to draw together those Americans practicing or otherwise interested in the art, and to hold from time to time, at varying places, exhibitions not necessarily limited to the productions of the Photo-Secession or to American work.

It consists of a Council (all of whom are Fellows); Fellows chosen by the Council for meritorious photographic work or labors in behalf of pictorial photography, and
Associates eligible by reason of interest in, and sympathy with, the aims of the Secession.
In order to give Fellowship the value of an honor, the photographic work of a possible candidate must be individual and distinctive, and it goes without saying that the applicant must be in thorough sympathy with our aims and principles.

To Associateship are attached no requirements except sincere sympathy with the aims and motives of the Secession. Yet, it must not be supposed that these qualifications will be assumed as a matter of course, as it has been found necessary to deny the application of many whose lukewarm interest in the cause with which we are so thoroughly identified gave no promise of aiding the Secession. It may be of general interest to know that quite a few, perhaps entitled by their photographic work to Fellowship, have applied in vain. Their rejection being based solely upon their avowed or notoriously active opposition or equally harmful apathy. Many whose sincerity could not be questioned were refused Fellowship because the work submitted was not equal to the required standard. Those desiring further information must address the Director of the Photo-Secession, Mr. Alfred Stieglitz, 1111 Madison Avenue, New York."

Throughout 1911 and early 1912 Stieglitz continued organizing ground-breaking exhibits of modern fine arts at 291 and promoting new art along with photographer in the pages of Camera Work.
Stieglitz was said to have a hand-held Folmer and Schwing 4x5 plate film camera. As well as used an 8x10 plate film camera which was bigger and required a tripod. He used many different techniques in producing his photographs including gelatin DOP, lantern slides and autochrome. He also experimented with gum printing and the glycerin process even though he had strict principles against photo manipulation. Stieglitz believed that photography was a way of creating a poem through the language of photography.

“[he was], by conviction and instinct, an exponent of the 'straight photograph,' working chiefly in the open air, with rapid exposures, leaving his models to pose themselves, and relying for results upon means strictly photographic. He is to be counted among the impressionists, fully conceiving his picture before he attempts to take it, seeking for effects of vivid actuality and reducing the final record to its simplest form of expression” (Newhall)

Being that Stieglitz was so interested in the Avant-garde culture he found himself greatly influenced by artists like painter Charles Sheeler and photographer Paul Strand. During the course of his long career, he produced more than 2500 mounted photographs and was the first photographer to exhibit in major U.S. museums.

Some of his work explained:

The Terminal (1892):
Stieglitz took this photo using a small 4x5 camera which, at the time, was not considered a camera for taking artistic photographs. He was able to roam freely with this his hand-held camera and take shots of the ever changing urban life around him. He used the elements of rain, smoke and snow to his advantage to unify and soften his photos.

Winter – Fifth Avenue
“In order to obtain pictures by means of the hand camera it is well to choose your subject, regardless of figures, and carefully study the lines and lighting. After having determined upon these watch the passing figures and await the moment in which everything is in balance; that is, satisfied your eye. This often means hours of patient waiting. My picture, "Fifth Avenue, Winter" is the result of a three hours' stand during a fierce snow-storm on February 22nd 1893, awaiting the proper moment. My patience was duly rewarded. Of course, the result contained an element of chance, as I might have stood there for hours without succeeding in getting the desired pictures." (Stieglitz)

Equivalent Series:
Stieglitz photographed clouds from 1922 into the thirties. He believed that clouds where an abstract equivalent to his own emotional experience at the moment he snapped the shutter. He thought that the form, colours and lines could represent his own emotions and ideas.

The Steerage:
It can be considered one of the greatest photographs in history because it documents in a single image of that time as well as one of the representations of photography as a modern art.

Stieglitz had always been jealous of the bound between his twin siblings Julius and Leopold growing up. When he met Georgia O’Keeffe, an American painter, in 1917 he knew he had finally found his own “Twin” or “soul-mate”. Before her had known her name or met her in person, he was introduced to her work which was so was enthralled by that he began showcasing it publicly without her permission. After O’Keeffe confronted him, he knew right away she was the woman he wanted all along, though the feeling was not reciprocated until later on. The two began writing intimate letters back and forth and occasionally meeting since O’Keeffe. In 1917 Stieglitz felt the urge to reinvent himself and ended everything he has involved himself in within the last decade. He disbanded Photo-Secession, stopped publishing Camera Works, closed the door on 291 and eventually ended his marriage with Emmeline Obermeyer. His artistic style began to change from romanticized impressionism to realism. Together Stieglitz and O’Keeffe were a power house. He became obsessed with taking photos of O’Keeffe through 1918-1925 which resulted in some of his most well-known works. Stieglitz made O’Keeffe one of the most photographed women of the 20th century after Greta Garbo. In 1921 he hung the first one-man photography exhibit since 1912 which consisted of 146 prints of O’Keeffe. It was at this exhibit that he made his famous declaration:

"I was born in Hoboken. I am an American. Photography is my passion. The search for Truth my obsession." He followed this statement with:
"PLEASE NOTE: In the above STATEMENT the following, fast becoming "obsolete", terms do not appear: ART, SCIENCE, BEAUTY, RELIGION, every ISM, ABSTRACTION, FORM, PLASTICITY, OBJECTIVITY, SUBJECTIVITY, OLD MASTERS, MODERN ART, PSYCHOANALYSIS, AESTHETICS, PICTORIAL PHOTOGRAPHY, DEMOCRACY, CEZANNE, "291", PROHIBITION. The term TRUTH did creep in but it may be kicked out by any one." (Norman).

This statement symbolized the dichotomy that Stieglitz embodied. He was a perfectionist who used the same scenes over and over until he was satisfied and only used the finest papers and techniques; but at the same time he created all his “work” from the heart opposed to just creating “art” that was made by those “trained” to see beauty.

One of the most important things about O’Keeffe was that she had become the muse Stieglitz had always wanted. In the time he photographed her he produced more than 350 mounted prints that portrayed a wide range of her character, moods and beauty. Many of them were close-ups and often focused on parts of her body and quite often her hands.

These photos became the single most intimate images ever recorded of a single individual in the history of art.

"His refusal to encapsulate her personality into a single image was consistent with several modernist ideas: the idea of the fragmented sense of self, brought about by the rapid pace of modern life; the idea that a personality, like the outside world, is constantly changing, and may be interrupted but not halted by the intervention of the camera; and, finally, the realization that truth in the modern world is relative and that photographs are as much an expression of the photographer's feelings for the subject as they are a reflection of the subject depicted."

As his health and energy declined he started to take photographs less and less. Eventually he just took photographs from the window of his study like Looking Northwest from the Shelton.


Dorothy Norman (1973). Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer. NY: Random House.
Heilbrun, Francois. Alfred Stieglitz. Milan: Musee D'Orsay, 2004. Print.