Alfred Stieglitz is perhaps the most important photographer of the century gone by. He played a vital role in developing photography into an accepted art form. The art galleries he arranged in New York city during his lifetime were instrumental in bringing attention to many talented artists from across the world. A polymath of an artist, Stieglitz helped promote various art forms, though he gave more focus to photography. To illustrate how influential Stieglitz’s work has been to his peers and subsequent generation of artists, two of his works are chosen for analysis in this essay. These are, namely, the ‘Cloud Images’ (1931) and ‘Hands, Dorothy Noman I” (1925-1930).
The series of photographs that comprise Cloud Images, showcase Stieglitz at his creative best. Nature photography is an arduous exercise, with results dependant on favorable climatic, ecologic and geologic conditions. The genius of the artist lies in seizing the right moment, which could be rare and transient. Patience is the mother of all virtues in this genre of photography. Added to all this is the requisite artistic viewpoint – the ability to construct an aesthetic from the seemingly ordinary or commonplace environs. In the Cloud Images, all these characteristics come together to produce a mesmerizing effect on the viewer. The size of the photographic frame is also important for it connects the relative size of the viewer to that of the object. Some of the Cloud Images inspire a sense of awe in the viewer, thereby taking the art of photography to the same pedestal as that occupied by painting previously. The aesthetics of Cloud Images has parallels to modern abstract painting.
The photograph titled ‘Hands, Dorothy Norman I’ highlights Stieglitz’ signature style. Just as the face is an index of the mind, the hands too convey thought processes and attitudes. In other words, hands are an outlet for ‘body language’, which appeals to a discrete artistic mind. This is especially relevant in social settings, where the hands are used (mostly subconsciously) to convey key messages to others. Moreover, hands of a woman are objects of beauty in themselves. Although conventional art has always paid attention to this area, it was Stieglitz who made it a specialty. One has to remember that Dorothy Norman was a much younger woman with whom the elderly Stieglitz had a late-life romantic affair. This personal connection adds meaning and context to the photograph, which might otherwise confound the viewer. The Stieglitz touch to the image is evident in the use of shadow and color contrast to accentuate the symmetry and symbolism carried by the picture.
When one considers that Stieglitz only had rudimentary photographic equipment, appreciation for his works increases multi-fold. It is a statement of his mastery of technique, timing and perspective that his style has survived many fashion trends. In sum, as these two exhibits illustrate, Stieglitz’s vision of photographic art and his mastery of technique make him a legendary figure to contemporary artists. The elements of art highlighted in the two exhibits have been adapted and improvised by photographers from later generations serving as a proof of Alfred Stieglitz’ lasting influence.
Alfred Stieglitz (19). “How I came to Photograph Clouds”. Amateur Photographer and Photography: 255
Sarah Greenough (2000). Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries. Washington: National Gallery of Art. pp. 26–53.
Alfred Stieglitz, Art of the Photogravure, ‘Hands, Dorothy Norman I’ (1931), retrieved from <http://www.photogravure.com/collection/searchResults.php?page=1&artist=Stieglitz,%20Alfred&view=small&file=Stieglitz_33_04>
Alfred Stieglitz, American Art, The Phillips Collection, ‘Cloud Images’ (1925-1930), retrieved from <http://www.phillipscollection.org/research/american_art/artwork/Stieglitz-Equivalent_Series1.htm>