Alfred Stieglitz (January 1 1864 – July 13th 1946) was not only a man possessing a beard and hair that my fellow Brooklynites would envy, but he was also a legendary photographer. Unfortunately born in New Jersey, he later moved to NYC and rocked the photo industry for the time. Alfred was not only a famous photographer, but he doubled as an art promoter that helped solidify photography into an accepted art form. One of his longest lasting results is the creation of the Camera Club of New York.
While studying at Charlier Institute, Mr. Stieglitz unfortunately felt like the right man in the wrong place. He didn’t feel challenged by his studies at all–and after much trial and error with finding the right schools, his father decided to send young Alfred to the super strict German schools.
Later on in college, he happened to jump into chemistry and then also became fascinated with photography. After a while, he purchased his first camera and toured the European countryside; documenting all the natural beauty around him. Eventually, Alfred was winning competitions for Amateur Photographer, and more. While doing all of this, Alfred was given an allowance from his father still of around $1,200 a month: which was quite a bit for back in the day. But trouble stirred with his family back in the US as his sister died in childbirth. His folks called everyone back home to deal with the tragedy and reluctantly, Alfred returned to America. Like many Europeans, he thought of us as uncultured swine at the time.
“Photography is not an art. Neither is painting, nor sculpture, literature or music. They are only different media for the individual to express his aesthetic feelings… You do not have to be a painter or a sculptor to be an artist. You may be a shoemaker. You may be creative as such. And, if so, you are a greater artist than the majority of the painters whose work is shown in the art galleries of today.”
Eventually though, his father helped him buy out a photography company. Unfortunately, Alfred and the Photochrome Engraving Company demanded super high quality work but compensated his workers with very high wages to the point where the company barely ever made a profit. Through the gape vine, Alfred met the editor of The American Amateur Photographer magazine; which he soon became the co-editor of. His writings garnered quite the following.
Around this time, he was 29 and his family was pressuring him to settle down in life. So he married his friend’s sister whom was nicknamed Emmy; but it was later revealed that he only married her for her money. Even later on in life, the two had a daughter and like any dysfunctional family, the two lived mostly separate lives in the same house.
Some of that money was spent on a European honeymoon; where he photographed much of Europe and continued networking. Upon returning to the US, the fruits of his labor blossomed into him becoming elected one of the first American member of Linked Ring: whose purpose was to defend the notion that photography is an art just as much as it is a science. This helped give Alfred the motivation to really try to push this form of thinking across the US.
Through some interesting moves, Alfred eventually encouraged the creations of the Camera Club of New York; which he later ran. The organization put out a publication called, “Camera Notes” and it was noted as one of the best photography magazines in the world. Lots of political problems occurred; especially when Alfred brought his friends in to help run the magazine vs some of the more current senior members for the time. The results: lots of mental breakdowns which resulted in his resignation.
Alfred’s work didn’t stop there though: he continued to publish magazines and also shoot, plus organize galleries. But what many people are really interested in is his relationship with artist Georgia O’Keeffe. The two shared a long distance semi-relationship for a while until she moved from Texas to NYC. Then he started shooting nude photos of her in his apartment. A friend described them as “two teenagers in love. Several times a day they would run up the stairs to their bedroom, so eager to make love that they would start taking their clothes off as they ran.” One day his wife walked in on the photo session; which resulted in Alfred leaving. Their relationship worked out well though because they both had separate lives: their artistic sides and the one they shared together. The two even had affairs with other people at different points in their relationships. But their closeness was ever-lasting and even when Alfred died, Georgia tried curating all of Alfred’s photos into one place.
Later on in his career, Alfred opened very large galleries (one which included a darkroom) and hung photos by the great Ansel Adams amongst many others.
Alfred’s choice of gear was interesting. He originally starte with an 8×10 camera but then felt liberated by a 4×5: which he could easily handhold when shooting.
Here are some more of his photos, which include his documentation of old New York:
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