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Alfred Stieglitz

(1864—1946) American photographer

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US photographer who established photography as a fine art in the USA and, through his galleries and publications, introduced Americans to modern art.

Stieglitz was born in New Jersey, the son of a wool merchant, and initially studied engineering, first in New York and then (in 1881) in Berlin. Here he purchased his first camera and straightaway switched to courses in photochemistry relevant to photography. From the outset, Stieglitz was determined that photography should be recognized as a legitimate art form. He experimented with such innovations as night-time photography and working in rain and snow. In 1890 he returned to the USA and in the years following he edited American Amateur Photographer, won a host of prizes with his work, and gained an international reputation. In 1902, he and a group of fellow photographers, including Edward Steichen, formed Photo-Secession with the aim of establishing photography as art through exhibitions and the quarterly Camera Work. Stieglitz opened Little Galleries at 291 Fifth Avenue, New York, in 1905. Known as ‘291’, the gallery exhibited not only photographs but also modern paintings and sculpture, with work by Rodin, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso, as well as contemporary US painters, such as Max Weber and Georgia O'Keeffe, whom Stieglitz married in 1924. Thus it was Stieglitz who first exposed the American public to the ‘shock of the new’. Following the closure of ‘291’ in 1917, he set up The Intimate Gallery (1925–29) and in 1930 An American Place opened on Madison Avenue.

Stieglitz was an adherent of ‘straight photography’ with a minimum of darkroom trickery. Among his best-known earlier works are The Terminal (1893), an atmospheric study of a horse-drawn tram in the snow, and The Steerage (1907), a poignant view of passenger decks on a ship. In the 1920s and 1930s his work consisted largely of a series of portraits of Georgia O'Keeffe and his ‘equivalents’ – pictures of sun and clouds that transcend form to reflect the artist's own hopes and fears. Ill health forced Stieglitz to cease taking pictures in the late 1930s but he continued to attend his New York gallery up to his death.

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