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May 10, 2011

Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz - 1902
Photographer: Gertrude Kasebier

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) was "an American photographer and modern art promoter who was instrumental over his fifty-year career in making photography an accepted art form." (Quote is from Wikipedia article on Stieglitz.)

Although Stieglitz was born in Hoboken, New Jersey (January 1, 1864), his parents were from Germany. In fact, the family moved back to the home country in 1881, when Alfred was a teenager. There he attended the equivalent of high school in Karlsruhe, then studied mechanical engineering in Berlin. He fell in love with photography at that time and traveled through the countryside in Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands taking pictures (he received a large allowance from his father). All of the family except Alfred returned to the U.S. in 1884 - Stieglitz stayed on until he was called back by his family in 1890. By then he was thoroughly dedicated to photography, had read extensively on the subject, and had written regular articles on photography for magazines in England and Germany. Also, he was winning prizes for his photographs.

When he got back to the U.S. in 1890, he was in his twenties. He already considered himself an artist (with a camera) and did not look for employment and did not have to as his father continued to support him. Later, his first wife was also able to support him. And so, with his natural talent and sensitivity, constant hard work, unflagging enthusiasm, and unwavering love for his photographic art - and usually no need to work at anything else - he lived quite a fascinating life that ordinary people could only dream of.

Below I am including three of his photographs (one is of his second wife, artist Georgia O'Keeffe), and also one very good video. Please note that you can see this video in a much larger size and also see more videos on Stieglitz in the Thinking About Art Library.

Above: Fifth Avenue, Winter (New York City) - 1892
Photographer: Alfred Stieglitz

"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." - Alfred Stieglitz

Above: The Hand of Man - 1902
Photographer: Alfred Stieglitz

Above: Georgia O'Keeffe - Hands - 1918
Photographer: Alfred Stieglitz

"The ability to make a truly artistic photograph is not acquired off-hand, but is the result of an artistic instinct coupled with years of labor." - Alfred Stieglitz

9 minutes, 15 seconds

VIEW THIS VIDEO - AND OTHER VIDEOS ON ALFRED STIEGLITZ - ALL IN A MUCH LARGER SIZE - in the Thinking About Art Library. There are other art-photography videos in the Library, also.

Alfred Stieglitz - Biographical material

There are several articles on the web on Stieglitz. I liked these:

Article on Stieglitz on Wikipedia. This is a thorough one-page biography that includes many facts that are not necessary to know and yet do make him seem more like a person who is connected to the past, to what was going on in the world while he was alive, to his unique experiences in that world, to his family, to his friends, to people who didn't like him, to his lovers, and to his wives.  If one believes that a person's achievements all come entirely from within that person without outside influence of any kind, then it would not be necessary or of interest to read anything other than, for example in this case, how he composed and developed his pictures and what he did with them in the darkroom afterwards, what kinds of cameras he used, what his subjects were, etc.  There is nothing wrong with keeping an article to these sorts of facts, but neither is it a crime to place the photographer in his world, and that is what this writer has done, although certainly there are many more details than I personally think were necessary to do this effectively.  Still, if you feel like taking the time to read it, it's a good story.

New York Times article on Alfred Stieglitz - February 13, 1983  This article refers to an exhibition of Stieglitz' photographs at the National Gallery of Art. The author mentions that Stieglitz's earliest pictures (taken in Europe) were reminiscent of quiet rural genre scenes by painters such as Courbet and Millet (this kind of treatment is known as "Pictorialism"), but when he began taking his late-19th-early-20th century photographs in New York City the scene was so different that Stieglitz's style changed dramatically as he reacted to a city where much was happening and rapidly changing; and later his familiarity with and admiration for modern art seems to have made him look for more abstract compositions.

NOTE: There is a new post on Alfred Stieglitz (Jan. 25, 2012)

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