History of Photography



Introduction  
History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary









 

 


THE STORY BEHIND THE PICTURES 1827-1991
 
 

 

1   Nicephore Niepce. View from the Study Window, 1827

2   Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. Boulevard du Temple, 1838

3   Eugene Durieu/Eugene Delacroix. Nude from Behind, ca. 1853

4   Duchenne de Boulogne. Contractions musculaires, 1856

5   Auguste Rosalie Bisson. The Ascent of Mont Blanc, 1862

6   Nadar. Sarah Bernhardt, ca. 1864

7   Francois Aubert. Emperor Maximilian's Shirt, 1867

8   Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi. Dead Communards, 1871

9   Maurice Guibert. Toulouse-Lautrec in His Studio, ca. 1894

10 Max Priester/Willy Wilcke. Bismarck on his Deathbed, 1898

11 Heinrich Zille. The Wood Gatherers, 1898

12 Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage, 1907

13 Lewis Hine. Girl Worker in a Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908

14 August Sander. Young Farmers, 1914

15 Paul Strand. Blind Woman, 1916

16 Man Ray. Noire et blanche, 1926

17 Andre Kertesz. Meudon, 1928

18 Robert Capa. Spanish Loyalist, 1936

19 Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

20 Horst P. Horst. Mainbocher Corset, 1939

21 Henri Cartier-Bresson. Germany, 1945

22 Richard Petersen. View from the Dresden City Hall Tower, 1945

23 Robert Doisneau. The Kiss in Front of City Hall, 1950

24 Dennis Stock. James Dean on Times Square, 1955

25 Bert Stern. Marilyn's Last Sitting, 1962

26 Gerard Malanga. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, 1966

27 Helmut Newton. They're Coming!, 1981

28 Sandy Skoglund. Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981

29 Robert Mapplethorpe. Lisa Lyon, 1982

30 Joel-Peter Witkin. Un Santo Oscuro, 1987

31 Sebastiao Salgado. Kuwait, 1991

 

see also:

STIEGLITZ ALFRED





Chapter 12

 


1907

 


Alfred Stieglitz

 

see also:
Alfred Stieglitz
(1864-1946)
 


The Steerage


Class Excursion on

 the High Seas

It is his most well-known work and, in his opinion, the most important. During a voyage from New York to Le Havre in the spring of 1907, Alfred Stieglitz photographed the steerage deck of the trans-Atlanticsteamer Kaiser Wilhelm II. The aesthetic of the picture boldly anticipated what came to be called the New Objectivity in photography.

 

 

One gazes at the gentleman wearing the straw hat approximately in the center of the upper third of the picture. This brightly gleaming headgear seems to have functioned as an especially important compositional ele-ment for Alfred Stieglitz: after all, he repeatedly made the so-called 'boater', which had become fashionable around 1880, into an unmistakable component of his pictures. One needs only to recall his photograph The Ferry Boat of 1910, where an entire group of young hat-wearers perhaps set off his desire to take a picture. Or a more successful variation of the motif, in which the light-colored headgear competes with a row of wooden bollards, painted white. Not that Alfred Stieglitz had any special interest in the hat styles of his age: to the contrary, the material world tended to leave him cold, unless it offered him usable 'raw material' for a photograph he was interested in taking. Stieglitz was no documentarist; the here-and-now had only a limited value for him. And if he once claimed that photography was his passion, and the search for the truth an obsession, then he was certainly not equating 'truth' with the quest after the internal contradictions of an age, society, or political system, such as contemporary photographers such as Jacob Riis or Lewis Hine were concerned with. For Stieglitz, truth implied rather a balance, a Tightness, an equanimity within the picture itself; in other words, it was an aesthetic concept. Not that the social aspect failed to move him: according to his own testimony, it was precisely the sense of surfeit inherent in the bored atmosphere of the First Class that was a part of what moved him during the steamship passage to Europe in 1907 to seek out the tween-decks of the Second and Third Class, where he took what is perhaps his most famŽous photograph, The Steerage. Typically, however, Stieglitz kept his disŽtance, photographed downward from an elevated position. And, decades later, when he provided a remarkably comprehensive commentary to his picture, he was concerned exclusively with compositional, technical, and aesthetic questions. The social extremes evident in the picture in other words were the trigger, but not the goal, of his pictorial exploration. Stieglitz sought not to penetrate, but to aestheticize, the world by means of photography. He understood himself chiefly as an artist, an apologist for an autonomous photography, that served nothing and no one but the duty to be art.

Alfred Stieglitz was born in 1864 in Hoboken, New Jersey, into a German-Jewish family, his father having emigrated from Munden, near Hanover. The son possessed a contradictory spirit. He himself sensed these contradictions, and raised them consciously to the sine qua non of his restless, lifelong devotion to art, specifically, photography. In every person who is truly alive, he once declared, these contradictions are to be found; moreover, "where there are no contradictions, there is no life." In this sense, Stieglitz was an apologist for photography but, as an elitist in thought and deed, he lacked any real desire to popularize it. Stieglitz was an Avantgardist with an almost nostalgic leaning toward craftsmanship; he was doctrinaire, but without a unified doctrine; he was feared, but ultimately powerless. As a critic, editor, publisher, gallerist, curator, go-between, instigator, impresario, and collector, he was probably the most brilliant figure in American art business in the new twentieth century. His role as a midwife to modern art in the broadest sense of the term is un-contested. In his excellent biography of the photographer, Richard Whelan claims that Stieglitz "is perhaps the most important figure in the history of the visual arts in the USA." Therefore, in the 1950s and 1960s, when New York finally replaced Paris as the world art capital, the revoluŽtion unquestionably owed its thanks to Alfred Stieglitz as the long-term result of his influence and effort, so to speak. It was he who introduced America to the European Avant-garde, and in turn fostered and encouraged American artists. But in spite of all this, he understood himself first and foremost to be a photographer. "When I'm finally judged," he once said, "I should be evaluated primarily in terms of my own photographic work."






 

Alfred Stieglitz
(1864 – 1946)

The Steerage

 

In a sense always a pictorialist







Camera Work, edition from 1911, in which The Steerage was first published Edward Streichen did the typography for the cover.

As a photographer, Stieglitz is a giant. In today's market; his works easily bring in three hundred thousand dollars - when they come to market at all, that is. His ceuvre is discussed in practically every history of the meŽdium. And yet, his photographic creations still stand under the shadow of the artists that he publicized and fostered as his proteges: Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, to name only three. Stieglitz does not appear in the 'pantheon' of the thirty most important photographers of the twentieth century established in 1992 by Klaus Honnef, who characterizes Stieglitz's work as "commercial photography - though of a high degree": a surprizing evaluation, insofar as Stieglitz succeeded in establishing pictorialism in the USA while he was almost simultaneously anticipating Straight Photography in works like Winter, Fifth Avenue (1893), From the Back-Window, 291 (1915), or - precisely - The Steerage. In other words, at least twice Stieglitz was the leading figure in the artistic Avant-garde. Furthermore, it was he who raised the metropolis, modern civilization itself, to an object for art, introducing it into polite company, as it were. Skyscrapers, city canyons, rail and ship traffic all appear as motifs on an equal basis with classical themes such as landscape, genre, and nude photography. Stieglitz's ceuvre even comprises examples of conceptual photography, if one considers his portraits of Georgia O'Keeffe, one of his later lovers, shot over a period of years, or his cloud studies, his so-called Equivalents, that he pursued almost obsessively. Admittedly absent from Stieglitz's photographs is the radicalism that his contem-poraries such as Evans or Strand brought to their work. In a sense, Stieglitz remained a pictorialist, above all interested in adapting the classical rules of art to photography and to creating an elegant print. All of this applies specifically to The Steerage, a work at once ambivalently radical and affirmative. Stieglitz published the picture for the first time in 1911 in his magazine Camera Work; years later he designated it among his most important works. "If all my photographs were lost, and I were to be remembered only for The Steerage'," he once said, "I would be satisfied." In the spring of 1907 Alfred Stieglitz was forty-three years old. We can picture the artist, of whom so many portraits exist, as a respectable middleaged gentleman with thick hair and a dark mustache, wire-rimmed glasses, and the skeptical gaze of the restrained misanthrope who has not yet given up the struggle against ignorance and poor taste. Although born in the USA, Stieglitz was strongly influenced by spending a number of school and university years in Germany. In particular, the lectures by Hermann Wilhelm Vogel, the inventor of orthochromatic film, greatly furthered his interest in photography. Stieglitz's first experiments with the camera stem from his Berlin period beginning 1882. He began to submit his work to photography contests and to write knowledgeable essays on the subject for international magazines. Upon his return to the USA, initially as editor of the journal American Amateur Photographer and later of Camera Notes, he became the apologist of an 'autonomous' photography, free from the service to any particular goals. His association with Camera Work (beginning 1903) and the Little Galleries at 291 Fifth Avenue (beginning 1905) provided him with influential forums for broadcasting his ideals. By 1907, he had also opened his doors to the fine arts, in particular to the work of artists like Rodin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, and Picasso. In the same year, Stieglitz himself undertook a voyage to Europe. In early June, acceding to the wishes of his wife, Emmy, he boarded the Kaiser Wilhelm II, the luxurious flagship of the Norddeutsche Lloyd lines. Along with his wife, daughter Kitty, and a governess, he brought along a Graflex for 4 x 5-inch glass negatives, and a single unexposed plate with which he was later to capture his famous 'tween-decks picture. For photographers to speak about their individual creations is more the exception than the rule. Nonetheless, in 1942 - four years before his death - Stieglitz provided The Steerage with a longish commentary, which Wilfried Wiegand once with justice termed "the most precise description...ever offered on the creation of a masterpiece." Stieglitz begins his discussion with a description of the atmosphere in the First Class, which he hated: faces that "would cause a cold shudder to run down the spine," led him to spend the first few days at sea in a lounge chair on deck with his eyes closed. "On the third day," he continued, "I couldn't take any more. I had to get away from this society."

The artist moved "as far forward as the deck allowed." The sea was calm, the sky clear with a sharp wind blowing. "Reaching the end of the deck, I found myself alone, and looked down. In the steerage were men, women and children. A narrow stairway led up to a small 'tween-deck above, directly over the prow of the ship. To the left was a slanted chimney, and from the 'tween-deck, a gleaming, freshly painted gangway hung down." Stieglitz noticed a young man with a round straw hat and the funnel leaning left, the stairway leaning right, "the white drawbridge with its railings made of circular chains - white suspenders crossing on the back of a man in the steerage below, round shapes of iron machinery, a mast cutting into the sky, making a triangular shape... For a while I stood there as if rooted, looking and looking. Could I photograph what I was feeling...?" Stieglitz hurried back to his cabin, grabbed his Craflex, and hurried back "out of breath and afraid that the man in the straw hat might have moved. If he had left his place, then  I no longer had the picture than I had imagined earlier. The relation between the forms that I wanted to capture would have been destroyed, and the picture would have been gone." But the man was still standing there. Furthermore, neither the man wearing the suspenders nor the woman with her child on her lap had altered their positions. "Apparently," claimed Stieglitz, "no one had changed position. I had only one cassette with a single unexposed plate. Would I be able to capture what I saw and felt? Finally I pressed the button. My heart was pounding. I had never heard my heart beating before. Had I gotten my picture? If the answer was yes, then I knew I had reached a new mile-stone in photography, similar to Car Horses in 1892 or Hand of Man in 1902, both of which had introduced a new epoch in photography and perception."
 


Alfred Stieglitz
(1864 – 1946)
The Hand of Man, 1902
 

 

In comparison with the euphoria that he later expressed, Stieglitz seems not to have been so certain in the beginning about the quality of the picture. How else can one explain the fact that the work that he designated as a milestone of photographic art appeared neither in the art photography exhibit in Dresden in 1909, nor in the Albright Gallery in Buffalo a year later. The Steerage was published for the first time only in 1911 in the form of a 7 3/4 x 6 1/4-inch photogravure in Number 36 of the legendary magazine Camera Work that Stieglitz edited. Earlier, the photographer thought he recalled showing the photograph to his friend and colleague Joseph  Keily. "'But Stieglitz,' he protested, 'you took two pictures, one above and one below.'... It became clear to me that he did not rightly see the picture that I had taken." Even today, the photograph is regularly misunderstood as a visual witness to the masses of immigrants that were streaming to the USA around the turn of the twentieth century. In fact, however, the ship is cruising in the opposite direction, and the people traveling in steerage were in fact 'migratory birds' - manual workers and craftspeople who, as Richard Whelan writes, "made the crossing between Europe and the New World in two-year cycles." Stieglitz himself did not comment on them - just as he did not seem interested in the entire social aspect of his photography. He placed forms and structure above any possible human implications - at any rate, the latter were not the subject of his reflections. Thus, on the eve of the First World War, 'pure' art was able to celebrate itself once more. Afterwards, it would be forced to redefine its role in a new age and a new world.

 

 

Alfred Stieglitz

(b Hoboken, NJ, 1 Jan 1864; d New York, 13 July 1946).

American photographer, editor, publisher, patron and dealer. Internationally acclaimed as a pioneer of modern photography, he produced a rich and significant body of work between 1883 and 1937. He championed photography as a graphic medium equal in stature to high art and fostered the growth of the cultural vanguard in New York in the early 20th century. 

 

The Terminal, New York
1892
 

Winter on Fifth Avenue, New York
1893
 

Icy Night
1893
      

Self-portrait
1907

The Steerage
1907

 

Snapshot, Paris
1911
 

From the Back-Window, "291"
1915
 
Paul Strand
1919
      

John Marin
1922

Dancing Trees
1922

 

Equivalent
1926

Equivalent
1929

 

Equivalent
1930
 

From the Shelton, West
1935


Portraits of Georgia O'Keeffe

                

Georgia O'Keeffe
1918
Georgia O'Keeffe
1918

 

Georgia O'Keeffe
1918
Georgia O'Keeffe
1919
         

 

Hands and Thimble - Georgia O'Keeffe
1920
 

Georgia O'Keeffe
1922
 

Georgia O'Keeffe
1931
 

Georgia O'Keeffe
1932

 
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