Art & Photography

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Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946)

Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage. 1907

Alfred Stieglitz was a renowned photographer who contributed greatly to the development of Modernism during the 20th century. Championing photography as an art form at a time when it was considered a form of documentation, he co-founded the journal Camera Work with Edward Steichen and passionately defended the importance of the medium.

The Steerage is a photograph taken by Alfred Stieglitz in 1907. It captures in a single image both a formative document of its time and one of the first works of artistic modernism.

 

Stieglitz said "There were men and women and children on the lower deck of the steerage. There was a narrow stairway leading to the upper deck of the steerage, a small deck right on the bow with the steamer."

 

To the left was an inclining funnel and from the upper steerage deck, there was fastened a gangway bridge that was glistening in its freshly painted state. 

 

On the upper deck, looking over the railing, there is a young man with a straw hat. The shape of the hat is round. He is watching the men and women and children on the lower steerage deck…A round straw hat, the funnel leaning left, the stairway leaning right, the white drawbridge with its railing 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. The shapes relate to each other. 

Much has been written about the scene as a cultural document of an important period when many immigrants were coming to America. In fact, the picture was taken on a cruise to Europe from America, and for that reason, some critics have interpreted it as recording people who were turned away by U.S. Immigration officials and were forced to go back home. 

Alfred Stieglitz. Equivalent 

Equivalents is a series of photographs of clouds taken by Alfred Stieglitz from 1925 to 1934. They are generally recognized as the first photographs intended to free the subject matter from literal interpretation, and, as such, are some of the first completely abstract photographic works of art.

 

Stieglitz took at least 220 photographs that he called Equivalent or Equivalents; all feature clouds in the sky. The majority of them show only the sky without any horizon, buildings or other objects in the frame, but a small number do include hills or trees. 

Alfred Stieglitz.  Equivalent. 1930

Almost all of the photographs are printed very darkly so the sky often appears black or nearly black. The contrast between the sky and the much lighter clouds is striking in all but a few of the prints. Some images include the sun either as a distinct element in the photograph or as an illuminating force behind the clouds.

 

One of the reasons that the strongest of these photographs appear so abstract is that they are void of any reference points. Stieglitz was not concerned with a particular orientation for many of these prints, and he was known to exhibit them sideways or upside down from how he originally mounted them.

 

The Equivalents are photographs of shapes that have no identity There is no evidence to locate these works either in time or place. They could have been made at any time since the invention of photography. And because there is no horizon line in these photographs, it is not even clear which way is 'up' and which way 'down.' Our confusion in determining a 'top' and a 'bottom' to these photographs, and our inability to locate them in either time or place, forces us to read what we know are photographs of clouds as photographs of abstracted forms.

Alfred Stieglitz. Equivalent, 1929

Ten Key Modernist Photographers

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                          Moholy-Nagy       Alexander Rodchenko      Man Ray               Tina Modotti        Mario Cravo Neto      

   

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Paul Strand

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Laura Wilson           Sherrie Levine       Masao Horino

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Robert Frank