(American, 1864 - 1946)
Alfred Stieglitz’s pivotal role in shaping the development of Modern art in America was formed throughout his upbringing. Born to prosperous German-Jewish parents, Alfred moved at the age of seven from Hoboken, New Jersey, to a brownstone on East Sixtieth street in New York. After graduating high school, Stieglitz traveled to Germany with his father in 1882, where he enrolled in the mechanical engineering program in Karlsruhe. However, his attention was quickly redirected to photography, and the underlying chemistry and technical processes. Within a year he had bought a small camera, an object that he later referred to as his “. . .passion, then an obsession.”
Stieglitz returned to New York in 1890. Six years later he helped form the Camera Club of New York, with the aim of making it a vehicle for purely aesthetic (as opposed to commercial) photography. In 1902, frustrated with the unrealized goals of the Camera Club, he founded the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession group with Edward Steichen, which came to be known primarily by its street address, 291 Fifth Avenue. Stieglitz’s own photographs from this time are often concerned with New York working class life. Images such as In the New York Central Yards, c. 1903 and The Hand of Man, New York 1902 are extraordinary in their direct, unsentimental portrayal of the urban environment and its supportive labor.
Throughout the following decade Stieglitz exercised increasing aesthetic hegemony over the development of American modernism. When, in 1916, Anita Pollitzer brought Stieglitz a group of drawings by Georgia O’Keeffe (then a school teacher in Columbia, South Carolina), he had established himself as a dominant figure in the New York art world. O’Keeffe could not have found a more receptive venue for her work. In addition to Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso, Stieglitz had already introduced an unsuspecting American public to the work of Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and John Marin.
Stieglitz was immediately taken with O’Keeffe as an artist, and soon as a lover. In 1916 they began a correspondence which resonates with the passion that would characterize their future relationship. Shortly after viewing her work for the first time, Stieglitz wrote to O’Keeffe: “If you and I were to meet and talk about life. . . then through such a conversation I might make you feel what your drawings gave me. . .” Although 291 closed that summer, O’Keeffe moved to New York in June of 1918 at Stieglitz’s invitation, and soon the two were deeply in love. The intensity of their relationship can be glimpsed in the numerous photographs of her, including Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe, 1918.
Throughout the next decade Stieglitz concentrated more closely on his own photography and the work of O’Keeffe, whom he married in 1924. Four years later he suffered a heart attack that left him partially disabled. By 1937 he had ceased taking new photographs altogether. On July 10, 1946, Stieglitz was found unconscious on the floor of his New York home, having suffered a massive stroke. He died three days later, never having regained consciousness. After the funeral, his ashes were scattered near his family home in Lake George, by O’Keeffe.