Alfred Stieglitz (American photographer)
Alfred Stieglitz (January 1, 1864 – July 13, 1946) was an American photographer, gallery owner, art collector and promoter. He is viewed by many as one of the most influential figures in both modern American art and photography due to his efforts in establishing the medium as a recognised art form alongside painting and sculpture. His work in organising exhibitions in both the celebrated New York Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (known as the ‘291’) and across the country brought recognition for a number of emerging artists, and he was instrumental in the promotion of Modernism in America.
Alfred Stieglitz was the son of Jewish-German immigrants, and after growing up in the United States spent several years studying in Germany where he first developed a love for photography. He wrote for amateur photography magazines and won several competitions, gaining notoriety across Europe, before returning to America in 1890.
He continued his relative success and in 1893 was invited to co-edit ‘The American Amateur Photographer’ publication. He was then instrumental in the formation of the Camera Club of New York, created by the joining of two previously separate organisations. He was determined to promote photography as a serious and valid art form in its own right, and created the Club’s publication ‘Camera Notes’ in 1897.
In 1902 he organized an invitation-only group termed the ‘Photo-Secession’ to promote photography to the artistic community "as a distinctive medium of individual expression." Among its members were Edward Steichen, Gertrude Kasebier, Clarence White, and Alvin Langdon Coburn. From 1905 to 1917, Stieglitz managed the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue (which became known as the 291). In 1910, Stieglitz was invited to organize a show at Buffalo's Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and the exhibition set new attendance records.
In 1924 he married the artist Georgia O'Keeffe (after divorcing his first wife in 1918) and they both found success in their fields, with O’Keefe acting as a muse to Stieglitz and inspiring a set of over 300 portraits of her.
After a lifetime of creating influential work, promoting new artists and the medium of photography, Stieglitz was forced to retire from photography in 1937 due to heart disease and died in 1946 at the age of 82.
Stieglitz is perhaps most famous for his series of 350 portraits of his wife Georgia O’Keeffe, taken over a period of years between 1918 and 1925. Many feature close-ups of parts of her body in isolation, with her hands being a particular focus for many images.
His work is also famous for capturing the transformation of New York into a modern metropolis. Photographs such as ‘Terminal’ (1892) show a city still populated with horse-drawn carriages, whereas ‘Old and New New York’ (1910) depicts skyscrapers emerging to tower over the original buildings.
One of his most famous images is ‘Steerage’ (1907) which captures the changing social makeup of the city with working-class immigrants crammed on the lower deck of a ship whilst first-class passengers sit in the sunshine above. It was Stieglitz’ own favourite image from his body of work, and he once wrote: "If all my photographs were lost, and I were represented only by The Steerage, that would be quite all right."
In 1989 at a Sotheby’s auction in New York a set of 21 cloud studies by Stieglitz entitled ‘Equivalents’ sold for a then-record price of $396,000 (including buyer’s premium).
At another Sotheby’s auction in New York in 2006, two of his most famous portraits of his wife, artist Georgia O’Keeffe, sold for record prices. The image entitled ‘Georgia O Keeffe (Hands)’ sold for $1,472,000, making it the fifth most expensive photograph ever sold at auction, and his photograph ‘Georgia O'Keeffe (Nude)’ sold for $1,360,000 making it the sixth most expensive.