Sie sind auf Seite 1von 258


Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2010




Sarah Greenough

Juan Hamilton


Callaway Editions




Foreword 8

Acknowledgments p

Alfred Stieglitz and

^ The Idea Photography'^

Plates 3j


Alfred Stieglitz

on Photography

1 77

Chronology 2^8

Selected Bibliography

Exhibition Checklist

List of Plates





It is with great pleasure that the National Gallery of Art presents ^//re^^Scit'^/ifz, the

most comprehensive exhibition yet mounted of this photographer's work. Although his con-

tribution to the development of modem art and photography is recognized, our understand-

ing of StiegUtz's photographs as works of art remains hmited. His greatest images have not been forgotten in the years since his death in 1946, but there have been few opportunities to

examine the full range of his work. Now, since photography has assumed an increasingly

important position among the arts, it is especially appropriate to reevaluate the accompHsh-

ments of this master American photographer.

In 1949, after devoting three years to the organization and distribution ofher late husband's

large collection of modem art and photography, Georgia O'Keeffe generously donated the

"key set" of his work to the National Gallery of Art. She also put several hundred portraits of

herself made by Stieghtz between 1917 and 1937 on long term loan and in 1980 added them

to the original gift. Numbering approximately sixteen hundred, the Gallery's Stieghtz Col-

lection includes at least one print of every image that was in the photographer's possession at

the time of his death. Because he rarely sold his photographs and infrequently gave prints to

friends, this collection represents virtually his complete work. But comprehensiveness was

not Miss O'Keeffe's oidy concern in making the gift; she was also conscious of quaUty. Appre-

ciating the enormous care and effort Stieghtz had invested in personally printing and mount-

ing each photograph, she selected the fmest prints for the key set. This exhibition has been

drawn exclusively from the Gallery's Stieghtz holdings.

The National GaOery is indebted to Miss O'Keeffe for more than her initial donation; her continued interest in and support of its StiegHtz Collection has been unstinting. She has given

much time and energy to the preparation of this exhibition, and we are grateful to her for her

generous aid m funding the catalogue. Together with Miss O'Keeffe, guest curators Sarah

Greenough and Juan Hamilton have selected the photographs to be exhibited and repro-

duced. Their sustained attention to details of installation and production has insured the

success of this project.

A special word of recognition and thanks is due Ms. Greenough for the care and insight

she has shown in organizing the Gallery's Stieghtz Collection and in conceiving this show.

Her introductory essay and her selection of Stieghtz's own writings, many previously unpub-

lished, make this book an especially valuable complement to the exhibition.

Springs Industries, through its president, Walter Y. Ehsha, has contributed significant

support to the exhibition. We are grateful to Springs for the company's continuing com-

mitment to photography as a fine art.

J. Carter Brown



The purpose of this exhibition and catalogue is to demystify Alfred Stieglitz: to

strip away the label of prophet so frequently and uncritically applied to him and, through a

comprehensive selection of his photographs and writings, to present him first and foremost

as a photographer. Neither the exhibition nor the catalogue would have been possible wathout

the assistance of Georgia O'Keeife and Juan Hamilton. Their enthusiastic support and percep-

tive evaluation of all aspects of this undertaking have been invaluable. Mr. Hamilton and I

spent many hours both in Washington and New Mexico where, in consultation with Miss O'KeefFe, we chose the photographs to be exhibited and reproduced. Our aim was to provide

an inclusive selection of StiegUtz's work in order to demonstrate the evolution of both his

photographs and his understanding of the medium. In choosing the images to be reproduced

in the catalogue, Mr. Hamilton and I tried to maintain a balance between works never before pubHshed and those which while knovm were nevertheless central to the development of

Stieghtz's photography. It was also our intention only to include reproductions of the highest

possible quality. We entrusted Eleanor Caponigro and the staff of Meriden Gravure Com-

pany with this responsibihty, and they deserve a special note of recognition for faithfully

reproducing Stieghtz's images. Ms. Caponigro is to be thanked for the design of the catalogue.

This exhibition is dravra exclusively from the National Gallery's "key set" of Stieghtz's

photographs; however, in the course of my research on StiegUtz I have consulted many other

collections. I am grateful to the following individuals for assisting me in this research: Martha

Chahroudi, assistant curator, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Van Deren Coke, director, depart-

ment of photography, San Francisco Museum of Modem Art; Ann Copeland, research assis-

tant, Liternational Museum of Photography at George Eastman House; James Enyeart, direc-

tor. Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; Grace Mayer, Steichen Archive

and the department of photography. Museum of Modem Art; Gamett McCoy, senior

curator, Archives of American Art; Weston Naef curator, MetropoUtan Museum of Art;

Sue Reed, assistant curator. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; David Travis, curator, Art Institute

of Chicago.

I would also like to thank the following individuals for sharing with me their knowledge

of Stieghtz and his associates: Ansel Adams, Odette Appel-Heyne, Marie Rapp Boursault,

Georgia Engelhard Cromwell, Margaret Harker, Barbara Haskell, Kurt Herrmann, Douglas

Hyland, Valerie Lloyd, S. Davidson Lowe, Dorothy Norman, Sarah W. Peters, Dorothy

Schubart, and Herbert J. Seligmami. David Schoonover, curator, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University,

greatly facihtated my selection and editing of Stieghtz's letters. I am grateful to the Beinecke

Rare Book and Manuscript Library for permission to pubhsh the Stieghtz letters from its

collection. Although the large majority of StiegHtz's letters are at the Beinecke Library, his

letters to Ansel Adams and Paul Strand are at the Center for Creative Photography, Uni-

versity of Arizona; his letters to Sherwood Anderson at the Newberry Library, Chicago;

and his letters to J. Dudley Johnston at the Royal Photographic Society, Bath, England. I

wish to thank these institutions for their permission to pubhsh letters from their collections.

Lotte Schonitzer-Kiihn owns the original of StiegUtz's letter to her father, Heinrich Kuhn,

dated 15 August 1923, and she has graciously allowed it to be pubUshed in this volume. Thomas F. Barrow, Beaumont Newhall, Alan Trachtenberg, and John Wilmerding all

read the manuscript of tliis catalogue at various stages of its completion. I am indebted to

them for their suggestions not only on my essay, but also on the selection of Stieghtz's writings.

The stafFof the National Gallery has been most helpful. I owe a particular debt of gratitude

to C. Douglas Lewis, curator of sculpture, and the Kress Foundation for appointing me a

Kress Fellow in 1978 and 1979 to organize and accession the Gallery's Stieghtz Collection,

and to Jacquelyn Sheehan, former assistant curator in the department of graphic arts, for her wise counsel during my initial work on both the collection and the exhibition. The members

of the department of graphic arts also provided much assistance: my thanks go to Andrew

Robison and Diane Russell for their advice and support during all phases of this exliibition,

and to Lynn Gould for her unfailing attention to the numerous details of organizing this

show. I acknowledge with appreciation the departments of photographic services and instal-

lation and design as well as Shelley Fletcher and Catherine Nicholson, conservators, and Hugh

Phibbs, matter-framer, for their careful and thorough attention to the photographs. The

catalogue has benefited greatly from the thoughtful suggestions of Frances Smyth, editor-in-

chief, and it has been enriched by Mei Su Teng's intelligent editing.

Finally, I thank my husband, Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. Throughout my work on this project

he has given me much support and encouragement, and his perceptive and constructive

criticisms have helped me clarify my thoughts. He deserves a special note of appreciation.

Sarah Greenough




The arts equally have distinct departments, and unless photography has its own

possibilities of expression, separate from those of the other arts, it is merely a process, not an art;

hut granted that it is an art, reliance should he placed unreservedly upon those possibilities,

that they may be made to yield the fullest results.


A MAN OF MANY ACCOMPLISHMENTS, ALFRED Stieglitz was a perhaps the

central figure in the development of early twentieth-century photography. In his pubhcations,

Camera Notes (1897-1902) and Camera Work (1903-1917), and in his organization of photog-

raphers, the Photo-Secession, he crusaded for the acceptance of photography as a vahd form

of artistic expression. He also played a major role in the introduction of modem art to

America. Beginning in 1908 he held a series of exhibitions at The Little Galleries of the

Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York (later called 291) of the most avant-garde

art of the time: Henri Matisse was first shown in America at 291 in 1908, Henri Rousseau and

Paul Cezanne in 1910, and Pablo Picasso in 1911. Even after the sensational exhibition of

modem art at the Armory Show in 1913, 291 continued to be a center of artistic experimen-

tation: Francis Picabia's work was shown in 1913 and Constantin Brancusi's and Georges

Braque's in 1914. In the midst of the excitement generated by the new European art, Stieghtz did not over-

look American artists. He exliibited John Marin and Marsden Hartley in 1909, Arthur Dove

and Max Weber in 1910, and Georgia O'Keeffe in 1916; and he continued to support these

American artists, even after the close of 291 in 1917, at the Intimate Gallery from 1925 to 1929

and at An American Place from 1929 to his death in 1946. Nor did StiegUtz confine his

attention to visual artists. His own inquiry into the American character aUied him with such

writers and crirics as Sherwood Anderson, Hart Crane, Waldo Frank, Paul Rosenfeld, and WiUiam Carlos WiUiams who were, like him, concerned with discovering and cultivating

an indigenous American culture.

These contributions have been justly noted. Numerous exhibitions, books, and articles

have been devoted to the efforts of StiegUtz and the Photo-Secession to estabhsh photography

as a fine art, to Stieghtz's introduction of modem European art to America, and to his support

of American painters and writers.^ But, somewhere in the midst of this veneration of Stieg-

htz's crusade for photography and art, his own accomphshments as a photographer have been

overlooked. It is true, of course, that all discussions of Stieghtz acknowledge that he was a

photographer, but they do little more than that, making passing reference to his work but

never examining it deeply. This neglect is ironic because Stieghtz did not consider liimself a

gallery director, publisher, or popularizer (labels he would have abhorred), but rather an

American photographer. Late in his life he wrote, "When finally I am to be judged I think

I'll have to be judged for my own photographic work."^

When StiegHtz's photographs are considered it is usually for their iimovations in style,

subject matter, and technique. But these are the manifestations, the visible results, of some-

thing larger and more profound, something that permeated and propelled Stieghtz's entire

undertaking as a photographer: a search for what he termed "the tneamng of the idea photog-

raphy."'' For Stieghtz saw that photography was "a distinct medium"; that it had, or should

have, its own set of standards; that it should not blindly emulate the style, the subject matter,

or even the function of the other arts. Understanding "the idea photography" became an

almost philosophical inquiry for StiegUtz. It was not a fixed and constant concept, it was not

an a priori conviction, nor was it an ideal to which he aspired. He sought to discover it

pragmatically, by continually testing and challenging both the science and the aesthetics of

photography. The "idea photography" was the reason why StiegHtz formed the Photo- Secession, why he pubhshed Camera Notes and Camera Work, and why he exhibited modem

European and American art, for all of these outlets allowed him to test the medium. He

examined the mechanics and chemistry of photography, questioning the inherent and unique

characteristics of the process; he compared photographic expression to that of other artistic

modes; and he explored how he could express himself through photography all of this to understand "the idea photography." He did not try to compartmentahze photography nor

did he wish to arrive at a defmition of the medium anything so codified as a defmition was

anathema to Stieghtz but rather through a series of demonstrations he attempted to show

what photography might be, technically, formally, and expressively.

Stieghtz's first understanding of "the idea photography" was scientific and functional. As

a mechanical engineering student at the Technische Hochschule in Berhn in the 18 80s he

studied photography with the renowned scientist Hermann Wilhelm Vogel. The proHfer-

ating chemical and mechanical improvements in photography at this time, in which Vogel

was a major participant, fueled Stieghtz's curiosity about the process of photography. He

wanted to know what the camera could do, what photographic fdm and printing paper were

capable of recording. Constantly testing the hmits of both the medium and his skill, StiegUtz

made numerous experiments to determine, for example, how httle hght was necessary to

expose a negative, or to see how quickly he could take, develop, and print a photograph.

It was the science of photography that challenged and stimulated him: "Being told that cer-

tain pictures could not be taken made me disregard a number of accepted practices and seek

to invent new ones."^

This scientific interest naturally affected Stieghtz's photographs. Although he frequently

traveled through Europe in search of picturesque subjects to photograph, his most innovative

works from tliis period were those that necessitated overcoming technical problems. The


formal, almost abstract patterning of light and shade in A Street in Sterzing, the Tyrol, 1890

{no. 7), Sun Rays, Paula, 1889 {no. 8), or A Street in Bellagio, 1894 {no. 9), for example, were

the result of his tests of the medium's capabUity to record extreme contrasts of Hght. (Paren-

thetical numbers are given after titles for photographs reproduced in this book.) When he consciously set about to make, as he said, "pictures," not photographs, his images were

usually quite derivative, strongly influenced by the Barbizon and German genre painters

(especially Max Liebermann) and by the photographers Henry Peach Robinson or, somewhat

later, Peter Henry Emerson. (See, for example, Tlie Net-Mender, 1894, or Gossip Katwyk,

1894.^) It was as if conquering the technical problems of photography freed him from the

repetition of time-worn picturesque themes of painting and allowed him to explore more

unusual and more photographic subjects.

When StiegUtz returned to the United States in 1890 he continued to look for the pictur-

esque: in The Street Paver, 1893 {no. 11), or The Rag Picker, 1893 (?), he found an equivalent

to the street people fruit sellers, cobblers, masons whom he had photographed in Europe.^

But, as was blatantly evident to Stieghtz, New York was not Europe. New and raw, it had

few of the subjects Stieghtz had photographed in Europe: its architecture lacked the patina of

time, and it had no quaint peasants in native dress working at their age-old traditional chores.

Moreover, in his wish to make pictures, not photographs, Stieghtz had few models to follow;

unlike the major cities of Europe, New York had not traditionally inspired artists to depict its

buildings, streets, parks, and waterways. Lamenting its lack of charm, American painters

before Stieghtz fled either to the countryside or to Europe in search of fit subjects.

But Stieghtz did not flee. Along with other American artists and writers of the 1890s and

1900S, including Stephen Crane and the so-called Ash Can school of painters, Stieghtz adopted

New York City as the subject for his art. Although somewhat hesitantly at first, he explored

the city, as he had wandered over Europe, to find and root out its picturesque aspects. And,

as when he was a student, his most important photographs of New York resulted from tech-

nical experiments. He found that rain or snow or evening hght softened the harshness of the

city, imparting a charm that was not evident in the clear hght of day. Traditionally, however,

photographs had not been made under such adverse conditions. Using one of the newly

invented small, and waterproof, hand cameras, Stieghtz photographed Winter, Fifth Avenue,

1893 («o. 12), and The Savoy Hotel, Neiv York, 1898 {no. 14). These were some of the first

photographs to be taken at night or in rain and snow storms. He also experimented with

different printing techniques. To increase their impact, and perhaps to mirror the scale of

New York, Stieghtz made carbon and photogravure enlargements of these photographs. He

also made extensive tests with lantern shdes. Although it had been previously scorned by

artistic photographers as the inconsequential toy of the Sunday hobbyist, Stieghtz recog-

nized that if the lantern shde was treated properly— if it was toned, if its highhghts were

reduced it could be an effective means of presenting his work. In short, Stieghtz's knowl-


edge of photography grew out of the best spirit of amateurism. He did not categorically

dismiss any printing process, developing technique, or camera because it was out of fashion

or considered too complicated. Rather, through his constant experimenting, he explored the

medium, appropriating those techniques of use to his art.

Stieghtz's exploration of photographic processes and his successful challenges of the me-

dium's accepted limits led him to believe that photography was, or could be compelled to be,

much more flexible than was generally supposed. He argued, both in his many technical

articles and through his photographs themselves, that the photographer was not at the mercy of his machine, but that he could control it, manipulate it, and make it "do what [he] wanted it to."* It was this beHef in the plastic nature of photography, rooted firmly in his knowledge

of its science and technology, that led Stieglitz to champion so ardently the merits of artistic

photography. For what he came to understand was that photography, rather than being a

mere mechanical process, was a medium, analogous to any of the other media available to

artists, and like them subject to control and dictation; that it was a flexible process fully

capable of artistic expression.

In the late 1890s StiegUtz gathered about him a group of photographers whose main and

common concern was to demonstrate the flexibihty of their medium. Edward Steichen,

Gertrude Kasebier, Clarence H. White, and Frank Eugene, among others, sought to expand

and enrich the expressive range ofphotography through the use of different printing processes

(including platinum, gum bichromate, and carbon, as well as combinations of their own

invention) and, most obviously, by drawing, painting, or scratching on either the negative

or the print. In its highest form, manipulation was not an end in itself, not a mere display of

virtuosity, but the result of aesthetic theories. These photographers beUeved that art was not

a record much less an imitation— of the phenomena of the world, but an expression of an

artist's spirit. What was important to them was not the depiction of the subject in front of the

camera, but how that subject could be made to be expressive of the feelings or thoughts of the photographer. Through their choice of subjects and their printing techniques, they sought to

cultivate a distinctive style, an artistic personaUty. "Individualism," StiegUtz said in an inter-

view in 1902, was the secret of pictorial photography, "the working out of the beauty of the

picture as you see it, unhampered by conventionaHty unhampered by anything not even

the negative."'

This conviction, which was most fully and conclusively developed in Camera Notes and

the early issues of Camera Work, was heavily indebted to the symbolist movement in art and

literature of the 1880s and 1890s. For this generation of