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Alfred Stieglitz Photo

Alfred Stieglitz

American Photographer and Publisher

Born: January 1, 1864 - Hoboken, New Jersey
Died: July 13, 1946 - New York, New York
"In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality."
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Alfred Stieglitz Signature
"In the past few women may have attempted to express themselves in painting... But somehow all the attempts I had seen, until O'Keeffe, were weak because the elemental force and vision back of them were never overpowering enough to throw off the Male Shackles."
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Alfred Stieglitz Signature
"The goal of art was the vital expression of self."
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Alfred Stieglitz Signature
"There are many schools of painting. Why should there not be many schools of photographic art? There is hardly a right and a wrong in these matters, but there is truth, and that should form the basis of all works of art."
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Alfred Stieglitz Signature
"I am not a painter, nor an artist. Therefore I can see straight, and that may be my undoing."
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Alfred Stieglitz Signature
"Wherever there is light, one can photograph."
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Alfred Stieglitz Signature

Summary of Alfred Stieglitz

A vital force in the development of modern art in America, Alfred Stieglitz's significance lies as much in his work as an art dealer, exhibition organizer, publisher, and editor as it does in his career as a photographer. He is credited with spearheading the rise of modern photography in America in the early years of the 20th century, publishing the periodical Camera Work (1903-17) and forming the exhibition society, the Photo-Secession. He also ran a series of influential galleries, starting with 291, which he used not only to exhibit photography, but also to introduce European modernist painters and sculptors to America and to foster America's own modernist figures - including his later wife, Georgia O'Keeffe. Insistent that photography warranted a place among the fine arts, Stieglitz's own work showed great technical mastery of tone and texture and reveled in exploring atmospherics. In later years, influenced in part by Cubism and other trends, he became interested in straight photography, favoring more clarity and less lush effects.


  • Emerging first in the milieu of Pictorial photography, Stieglitz sought to gain recognition for his medium by producing effects that paralleled those found in other fine arts such as painting. Many of his peers resorted to elaborate re-touching to create an impression of the handmade, but Stieglitz relied more on compositional effects and mastery of tone, often concentrating on natural effects such as snow and steam to create qualities similar to those of the Impressionists.
  • Stieglitz's early work often balances depictions of soft, ephemeral, natural processes with motifs drawn from American industry. Romantic in spirit, he was troubled yet fascinated by the rise of American power and sought to soften its apparent brutality by cloaking it in nature.
  • His later work reflects the decline of Pictorial photography and the rise of a new approach that claimed a value for photography as a revealer of truths about the modern world. Turning to more geometric motifs, effects of sharp focus, and high contrast, it celebrates a more mechanized phase of modern life in America.

Biography of Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz Photo

Alfred Stieglitz was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, just before the end of the American Civil War. Born to German-Jewish immigrants, Edward Stieglitz and Hedwig Ann Werner, Alfred was the eldest of six children. In 1881, the Stieglitz family fled the East Coast and moved back to Germany, hopeful that the German school system would challenge young Alfred in the way America's had not. The following year, while enrolled at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin, Stieglitz was exposed to photography for the first time.

Important Art by Alfred Stieglitz

Progression of Art
Winter, Fifth Avenue (1892)

Winter, Fifth Avenue

Winter, Fifth Avenue shows the busy New York street in the midst of a snowstorm. Stieglitz stalked Fifth Avenue for three frigid hours waiting for the perfect moment. He had to wait for the ideal composition - unlike a painter, who could manufacture it. Trails in the snow lead the eye up this vertical composition to its focal point - a dark horse and carriage that is swallowed by the snowy atmosphere. The snow blurs the details of the urban surroundings, lending the photo an Impressionistic appearance. This depiction of man - crudely mechanized - and pitted against the violence of the natural world, shows Stieglitz's inheritance from 19th century Romanticism.

Photogravure - The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The Terminal (1893)

The Terminal

Taken with a handheld Folmer and Schwing 4x5 plate film camera, this photo captures hot stream rising from horses in the dead of winter. A smaller camera meant greater mobility; it also ensured that he could more easily capture short-lived moments in time. The steam makes the photo appear more like a painting than a point-and-shoot image. Atmospheric effects such as this were important to Stieglitz in both providing a means to bind the image together and to show the kind of technical mastery and lush effects that audiences approved of in painting.

Photogravure - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Steerage (1907)

The Steerage

The Steerage depicts travelers boarding a crowded steamer going from New York to Bremen, Germany. They have attempted to immigrate to America, and have been forced to return home. While several of Stieglitz's early pictures suggest an interest in working class motifs - or, at least, scenes of labor and industrial work - he looked at these people with the somewhat distant sympathy of the patrician. For Stieglitz, the picture was far more important as a study in line and form. He regarded it as his first "modernist" picture, the image that marked his move away from the rich tonality of his earlier Pictorial phase, and it has since come to be seen as a benchmark for the beginnings of modernist photography. In part, this was due to Stieglitz's own promotion of it. He included it in a special issue of his journal Camera Work, in 1911, that was devoted to his new work. The images were accompanied by a Cubist drawing by Picasso, and Stieglitz loved to recount how Picasso had praised The Steerage for the way it transformed its conventional subject into a striking, collage-like depiction of different spaces.

Photogravure - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

From the Back Window at 291 (1915)

From the Back Window at 291

This nighttime scene was taken from the window of Stieglitz's famous avant-garde gallery. The photo is dominated by the geometric lines of New York's cityscape, using the rich range of tone the camera affords to depict the drama of the city by night. The overall darkness is leavened by intermittent beacons of artificial light. Although the picture was taken many years after Stieglitz had turned his back on the rich tonality of Pictorial photography, it could be interpreted almost as a transitional piece - the dramatic light effects recall his early work, but the geometric forms of the roofs in the foreground recall the concerns of his more recent, straight photography.

Platinum print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Georgia O'Keeffe - Torso (1918-19)

Georgia O'Keeffe - Torso

Stieglitz cropped O'Keeffe's body, filling the lens with her nude torso alone. A part of a larger series of portraits of O'Keeffe, it presents an intimate view of the woman who was Stieglitz's muse for the latter part of his life. He approached O'Keeffe like he might a landscape; the viewer is encouraged to see not nakedness but flowing organic lines - a finely judged composition. In consequence, however, she is also depersonalized and reduced to her component body parts - she is hair, breasts, and arms.

Palladium Print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Equivalent (1930)


Stieglitz's cloud series - Equivalents - captured ephemeral formations in the sky. This photo is divided between dark, black clouds on the left and bright sky on the right. Without context, the subject seems difficult to pinpoint, though Stieglitz intended the series to be an exploration of his changing mental state, with each shot of the sky representing an equivalent of his mood at the time the picture was captured. One of his more revered later works, the series is also the high point of abstraction in his career.

Gelatin Silver Print - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Similar Art

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Alfred Stieglitz
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
  • George Davison
    George Davison
  • Alfred Horsley Hinton
    Alfred Horsley Hinton
  • Hermann Wilhelm Vogel
    Hermann Wilhelm Vogel
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Alfred Stieglitz Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Aug 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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