Alfred Stieglitz and Photography

Themes

Alfred Stieglitz was an influential photographer who spent his
life fighting for the recognition of photography as a valid art form.
He was a pioneering photographer, editor and gallery owner who played
pivotal role in defining and shaping modernism in the United States.
(Lowe 23). He took pictures in a time when photography was considered
as only a scientific curiosity and not an art. As the controversy over
the art value of photography became widespread, Stieglitz began to
fight for the recognition of his chosen medium. This battle would last
his whole life.
Edward Stieglitz, father of Alfred, was born in Germany in 1833.
He grew up on a farm, loved nature, and was an artist at heart. Legend
has it that, independent and strong willed, Edward Stieglitz ran away
from home at the age of sixteen because his mother insisted on upon
starching his shirt after he had begged her not to (Lowe 23). Edward
would later meet Hedwig Warner and they would have their first son,
Alfred. Alfred was the first of six born to his dad Edward and mom
Hedwig. As a child Alfred was remembered as a boy with thick black
hair, large dark eyes, pale fine skin, a delicately modeled mouth with
a strong chin (Peterson 34). In 1871 the Stieglitz family lived at 14
East 60th street in Manhattan. No buildings stood between Central Park
and the Stieglitz family home. As Stieglitz got older he started to
show interest in photography, posting every photo he could find on his
bedroom wall. It wasn’t until he got older that his photography
curiosity begin to take charge of his life.


Stieglitz formally started photography at the age of nineteen,
during his first years at the Berlin Polytechnic School. At this time
photography was in its infancy as an art form. Alfred learned the fine
arts of photography by watching a local photographer in Berlin working
in the store’s dark room. After making a few pictures of his room and
himself, he enrolled in a photochemistry course. This is where his
photography career would begin. His earliest public recognition came
from England and Germany. It began in 1887 when Stieglitz won the
first of his many first prizes in a competition. The judge who gave
him the award was Dr. P.H. Emerson, then the most widely known English
advocate of photography as an art (Doty 23). Dr. Emerson later wrote
to Stieglitz about his work sent in to the competition: “It is
perhaps late for me to express my admiration of the work you sent into
the holiday competition. It was the spontaneous work in the exhibition
and I was delighted with much of it”, (Bry 11). The first photographer
organization Alfred joined while still in Berlin, was the German
Society of the Friends of Photography. After returning to the United
States 1890, Stieglitz joined the Society of Amateur Photographers of
New York. These experiences would later help him in years to
come.

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By 1902 Stieglitz had become the authority in his chosen field.
Stieglitz found that his achievements were not enough to win
recognition for photography. Finally in 1902 he founded an entirely
new photography group of his own, the Photo Secession. The focus of
the Photo Secession was the advancement of pictorial photography.
Stieglitz being the leader gathered a talented group of American
photographers headed toward the same common goal, to demonstrate
photography as an art form( Lowe 54). This was the first of many Photo
Secession shows through which Stieglitz set out and demonstrated
photography as an art. Their first Photo Secession exhibition was held
at the National Arts Club in New York. Photo Secession shows were
supported by galleries all over the world as well as Stieglitz’s own
gallery. All these events were reported in Stieglitz’s weekly magazine
Camera Work, which Stieglitz founded, edited, and published in fifty
volumes from its beginning in 1903 until its end in 1917. Although the
Photo Secession group never dissolved, it gradually diminished as an
organized group. Stieglitz continued to show new photographic work
when he believed it was important. It was all part of his fight for
photography, but the battleground and the