Alfred Stieglitz (January 1, 1864
– July 13, 1946) was an American 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, most famous for her
large-scale paintings of flowers.
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 Notes. He announced that every
published image would be a picture, not a photograph - a statement
that allowed Stieglitz to determine which was which.
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. Also in 1902 he ceased being editor
of Camera Notes and in 1903 started a new independent journal of his
own, Camera Work. Photo-Secession held its own exhibitions and its
work was published Camera Work, which became the pre-eminent
quarterly photographic journal of its day, although in later years
its popularity declined markedly and it ceased publication in 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, with whom he moved in 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 sympathizer 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 one of
the paintings, wrote him a check for $150, gave him five dollars and
told him to get something good to eat.
Stieglitz 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.
The Terminal, New York
Winter on Fifth Avenue, New York
Miss S.R., 1905
From the Back-Window, "291"
Ellen Koeniger, Lake George, 1916.
From the Shelton, West
Georgia O'Keeffe, Hands, 1918
Hands and Thimble - Georgia O'Keeffe