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© Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz The Eloquent Eye 1999

I watched this fascinating documentary on Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) – it is biography of his life and his role in the early 20th century American art world. Produced by American Masters and released in the USA in 2001. It also extensively refers to Georgia O’Keeffe (artist and partner of Stieglitz), Edward Steichen and John Marin (photographers).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-wtfjEo8Qc – the documentary can be found on Youtube (accessed – 7.3.15).

The story begins in 1893 (Washington’s birthday) with Stieglitz pushing the boundaries of his equipment by taking low light photographs to give an impression of what he saw, rather than sharp, photo-real images – this was contentious at the time.

alfred_stieglitz_winter_fifth
By Alfred Stieglitz

 

Stieglitz had the vision that photography should be accepted as art alongside traditional forms. To promote photography as a serious art he published the quarterly magazine ‘Camera Work’ in collaboration with other photographers, including Edward Steichen. He used space at 291 Fifth Avenue, NYC to exhibit international photographers (a first). Also, in 1908, he was one of the first to introduce Modern Art to America.

After 20 years striving for acceptance in mainstream art, Stieglitz had 15 photographic prints purchased/exhibited in the Albright Gallery (a fine art museum). However the images were in the pictorialism style and with Stieglitz’s exposure to Modern Art of Matisse and Picasso, he envisage a different future for photography.

The story goes on to describe the impact of the war years on aesthetics and Stieglitz’s work in supporting a number of young, promising artists and photographers. The part of the plot that had the most impact on me was the influence of Georgia O’Keeffe on Stieglitz’s life and work, including the stunning, intimate images he produce of her over a period years.

© Alfred Stieglitz
By Alfred Stieglitz

Towards the end, the documentary focus’s on Stieglitz’s flaws and his perceived fall from relevance for new generations of photographers. However, I suspect that without these flaws (for example, he was described as arrogant and domineering) he would not have achieved so much of what he set out to do.

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