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A trailblazing photographer, Alfred Stieglitz vigorously championed photography as a fine art and established its value as modern art in America through his own work, the journals he published, and the shows he held at his influential New York galleries. He even served as a juror for the very first photography exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, held in 1900. After studying photography in Europe in the 1890s, Stieglitz came home to New York and turned his camera to the streets and buildings of a rapidly changing city. He printed these images initially as photogravures to emphasize atmospheric effects; later, when he published his fine art journal Camera Work, he insisted on lush, tipped-in photogravures for the images. During this early part of his career, Stieglitz also favored carbon printing, which produced deep tones and a soft, drawing-like quality.
Beginning around 1910, Stieglitz embraced more direct and straightforward images, moving away from a painterly, impressionistic approach. This directness was echoed in his use of photographic papers such as platinum, palladium, and later, gelatin silver prints. In his portraits of fellow artists he sought to represent their psychology and not merely their likeness. This approach is especially apparent in the dozens of views he made of his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe, which Stieglitz called a single “composite portrait.” Starting in 1922, Stieglitz also made nearly abstract photographs with studies of clouds he called Equivalents. He saw these as music in pictures, asserting that visual art could be as emotional and nonrepresentational as music. His later work, too, contained multiple meanings, whether a photograph of dying poplars at his family estate in Lake George that doubled as a meditation on human mortality or of New York City skyscrapers that embodied progress and modernity.
Stieglitz’s formidable activity as a publisher and a gallerist paralleled that of his work as an artist. After serving as the editor of the publication Camera Notes, he published his own journal, Camera Work, which evolved from a showcase for the Photo-Secession to a forum for international modern art of all media. At his galleries—the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, later known as 291; the Intimate Gallery; and An American Place—he introduced the European avant-garde and promoted a new generation of American painters, all while advocating for photography’s place among the other fine arts.
Stieglitz directed O’Keeffe to oversee bequests of his work to multiple museums, including the Art Institute, where she had studied in the 1910s. The Alfred Stieglitz collection, donated in 1949, effectively founded permanent holdings of photography at this museum. Explore the entire collection here.