From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Alfred Stieglitz (January 1,1864 – July 13,1946) was an American-born photographer who was instrumental over his fifty-year career in making photography an acceptable art form alongside painting and sculpture. Many of his photographs are known for appearing like those other art forms, and he is also known for his marriage to painter Georgia O'Keeffe.
Stieglitz was born the eldest of six children in Hoboken, New Jersey and raised in a brownstone on Manhattan's Upper East Side. His father moved with his family to Germany in 1881. The next year, Stieglitz began studying mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin and soon switched to photography. Traveling through the European countryside with his camera, he took many photographs of peasants working on the Dutch seacoast and undisturbed nature within Germany's Black Forest and won prizes and attention throughout Europe in the 1880s .
Throughout his life, Stieglitz was infatuated with younger women. He married Emmeline Obermeyer in 1893, after he returned to New York, and they had one child, Kitty, in 1898. Allowances from Emmeline's father and his own enabled Stieglitz to not have to work for a living. From 1893 to 1896, Stieglitz was editor of American Amateur Photographer magazine; however, his editorial style proved to be brusque, autocratic and alienating to many subscribers. After being forced to resign, Stieglitz turned to the New York Camera Club (which was later renamed The Camera Club of New York and is in existence to this day) and retooled its newsletter into a serious art periodical known as Camera Work. He announced that every published image would be a picture, not a photograph - a statement that allowed Stieglitz to determine which was which by his scientific method.
Big camera clubs that were the vogue in America at the time did not satisfy him; in 1902 he organized an invitation-only group, which he dubbed the Photo-Secession, to force the art world to recognize photography "as a distinctive medium of individual expression." Among its members were Edward Steichen, Gertrude Kasebier, Clarence White and Alvin Langdon Coburn. Photo-Secession held its own exhibitions and published Camera Work, a pre-eminent quarterly photographic journal, until 1917.
From 1905 to 1917, Stieglitz managed the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue (which came to be known as 291). In 1910, Stieglitz was invited to organize a show at Buffalo's Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which set attendance records. He was insistent that "photographs look like photographs," so that the medium of photography would be considered with its own aesthetic credo and so separate photography from other fine arts such as painting, thus defining photography as a fine art for the first time. This approach by Stieglitz to photography gained the term "straight photography" in contrast to other forms of photography such as "pictorial photography" which practiced manipulation of the image pre and/or post exposure.
Stieglitz divorced his wife Emmeline in 1918, soon after she threw him out of their house when she came home and found him photographing Georgia O'Keeffe, whom he moved in with shortly thereafter. The two married in 1924 and were both successful, he in photography (he would take hundreds of pictures of her throughout his life), she as an artist who had received notoriety from Stieglitz at 291 in 1916 and 1917. Stieglitz began in 1916 photographing O'Keeffe and over the next two decades comprised one of his greatest works, his collective portrait of O'Keeffe (over 300 images) which was a collaborative process between both sitter and photographer. The marriage between O'Keeffe and Stieglitz was strained as she had to care more for his health due to a prevailing heart condition and his hypochondria. Following a visit to Santa Fe and Taos in 1929, O'Keeffe began to spend a portion of most summers in New Mexico.
In the 1930s, Stieglitz took a series of photographs, some nude, of heiress Dorothy Norman, who became in O'Keeffe's mind a serious rival for Stieglitz's affections. Both these photographs and those of O'Keeffe are often considered the first photographs to recognize the artistic potential of isolated parts of the human body. In these years, he also presided over two non-commercial New York City galleries, The Intimate Gallery and An American Place. It was at An American Place that he formed his friendship with the great 20th century photographer Ansel Easton Adams. Adams displayed many prints in Stieglitz's gallery, corresponded with him and also photographed Stieglitz on occasion.
Stieglitz was a great philanthropist and sympathiser with his fellow human beings. He once received a phone call on one of Adams' visits. A man wanted to show Stieglitz some work. He invited him over, looked at the prints, looked at the man in a rather disheveled state of affairs, looked at the work again. He then offered to buy the paintings and gave him a ten dollar bill, told him to get something warm to eat, get cleaned up, and come back so that they could iron out the details. The look in the man's eyes could have been an eternal testament to the kindness that was Alfred Stieglitz.
Stieglitz's stopped taking photographs in 1937 due to heart disease. Over the last ten years of his life, he summered at Lake George, New York and worked in a shed he had converted into a darkroom and wintered with O'Keeffe in Manhattan. He died in 1946 at 82, still a staunch supporter of O'Keeffe and she of him.
Pictures by Stieglitz:
- The Last Joke—Bellagio (1887; gathering of children in a photograph praised for its spontaneity, won first prize in The Amateur Photographer that year)
- Sun Rays—Paula, Berlin (1889; a young woman writes a letter lit by sunlight filtered through Venetian blinds)
- Spring Showers (1900-1901)
- The Hand of Man (1902); a train pulling into the Long Island freight yard)
- The Steerage (photographed in 1907 but unpublished until 1911; famous photograph of working class people crowding two decks of a transatlantic steamer)
- The Hay Wagon (1922)
- Equivalent (1931; a picture of clouds taken as pure pattern)