Photographer Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz is not the name that most would come up with if asked to name a famous photographer.
Alfred Stieglitz in 1902 by Gertrude Käsebier
In fact Alfred Stieglitz is not even the most famous person that lived in his house. That honor would go to his wife, Georgia O’keeffe.
Alfred Stieglitz was a great photographer in his own right but his real legacy was to raise photography up to the level of fine art, of getting it to a place where it could be examined next to the work of the great painters. He drove his agenda through ownership of galleries and through publication of the leading photography magazines of the time. Anyone who has worked or is working as a fine arts photographer owes a huge debt of gratitude to Steiglitz and this includes the photographer that many new and not so new photographers never really get past stylistically and that is Ansel Adams.
Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams.
Alfred Stieglitz recognized Adams as a major figure and gave him a one man show at his New York Gallery in 1936. It was unheard of, at the time for a relative unknown to get a solo show at a prestigeous gallery. The two first got to know each other in 1933 and Adams made a point of keeping the friendship alive right up until Steiglitze’s death. He was fully aware of Stieglitz’s notorious controlling nature and need for constant adulation but seemed more than willing to accept this as part of the package. The fact that they lived on different coasts also probably helped. Steiglitz had a knack of upsetting people that he was in regular close contact with.
This quote from Adams on hearing of Stieglitze’s death in 1946 gives a fair indication of the high regard that he had for him:
I do not believe in ghosts, but he spoke to me a few days ago, while I was driving through the mountains–wonderful sun and clarity. He said that the only thing that mattered was the sun and the earth and the growing things and what these things were in relation to humanity. The agony of humanity was in direct relation to humanity’s separation from the truth and from nature.
Adams credits three people for driving his interest in photography, Wesson and Strand and Stieglitz but it is Stieglitz that he regarded as the most important. He also regarded that first solo show in New York as the most important of his career.
A personal note. My favorite works by Adams are not his landscapes, which I find technically excellent but emotionally and artistically cold (so sue me!) but his portraits which have a certain unsentimental tenderness to them. My favorite portrait by Adams is in that this one of Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz – Legacy
There are many within the art world who regard Stieglitz as the most important figure in American visual art, note not just photography. This does not mean that he was the greatest American artist but it does mean that through his gallery, contacts. periodicals and general desire to force his will he lilterally changed the way that art was and is perceived. There is no way of knowing what the current aesthetic would be if Stieglitz hadn’t have lived. He both freed photography from the solely pictorial and elevated its status to art. Unfortunately too many photographers, often the most vocal ones, want to put it straight back into it’s pictorial box.
He also left a huge legacy as an artist. He may not have been the best artist or photographer but he was certainly an important one.
Here is a good piece about the relationship between Adams and Stieglitz, a great source of facts and some interesting and useful background. My only minor complaint is that the author seems determined to paint Adams as a Modernist and well, in my opinion for what it’s worth, he wasn’t. He certainly pushed the technical side of photography and had a deep aesthetic appreciation but he did not have the mindset of a Modernist. This is a minor quibble though.
THEORY – “Adams and Stieglitz: A Friendship”
The Wikipedia piece on Stieglitz is really good and very comprehensive:
Alfred Stieglitz – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
and should be read by anyone who picks up a camera or is into 20th century art. It also has some of his most famous work including the photograph The Steerage.
George Eastman House Alfred Stieglitz Series
Alfred Stieglitz Exhibition – Victoria and Albert Museum
American Masters . Alfred Stieglitz | PBS
all sorts of goodies here – an interactive timeline and some footage of curators, historians etc discussing Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz and Gallery 291–Brooke Schieb
For discussion about this article:Daily Kos: Photography – The Legacy of Stieglitz