Alfred Stieglitz, photographer, editor, writer, and gallery owner, was an integral figure in the development of 20th century photography and modern art in America at the turn-of-the-century. Born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1864, Stieglitz became fascinated with photography at an early age. His father Edward, a prosperous wool merchant, was able to educate his children abroad. In 1882, Alfred enrolled in the Technische Hochschule in Berlin where he studied photochemistry. He was influenced by the work of the noted British photographer Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936) who pioneered the use of the platinum paper and the photogravure.
Stieglitz returned to New York in 1892 after ten years abroad and quickly gained notoriety for his work. In 1902 he organized the Photo Secession in reaction to the conservatism prevalent in the Camera Club of New York. He worked with prominent photographers of the day, among them Edward Steichen, Gerturde Kasebier, Clarence H. White, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Annie Brigman, and Frank Eugene, to promote the photograph as art. The 1903 inception of the magazine, Camera Work, grew out of this experience.1
Stieglitz's influence on both photography and art is best seen in microcosm through the magazine, Camera Work, in which he championed the medium as a means of artistic self expression on par with the fine arts. Camera Work served as a forum for criticism as well, publishing early writing on photography. By 1910, Stieglitz began to use the pages of Camera Work to reproduce works of modern art by Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Rodin, and van Gogh. Additionally, he brought forth the first American publication of Gertrude Stein in 1912, who wrote about Matisse and Picasso. In this way Camera Work served as the starting point for modern art in America three years prior to the Armory Show. The Armory Show was, in itself, a pivotal moment in the history of American art. Held at New York's 69th Regiment Armory, this exhibition included more than 1,200 works by contemporary American and European artists. Steiglitz was both a lender to, and patron of, the exhibition.
From the start, Stieglitz stressed the importance of reproducing images of the highest quality in Camera Work. As he wrote in a column entitled "An Apology" from the premier issue of the magazine in 1903, "Photography being in the main a process in monochrome, it is on subtle gradations in tone and value that its artistic beauty so frequently depends. It is, therefore, highly necessary that reproductions of photographic work must be made with exceptional care and discretion if the spirit of the originals is to be retained, though no reproductions can do full justice to the subtleties of some photographs."2
Throughout the pages of Camera Work, Stieglitz promoted his gallery of the Photo-Secession, 291, by publishing reviews of exhibitions, work by artists featured there, as well as photographs of exhibitions.
Founded in 1905 with Edward Steichen, the gallery, located on the top floor of 291 Fifth Avenue, was initially intended to promote photography as an independent art form. The Gallery went on to exhibit works by notable contemporary European and American artists including Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso, Dove, Marin, O'Keeffe and Hartley, who described 291 as "the largest small room of its kind in the world."3
In 1917, the building that housed 291 was scheduled for demolition forcing Stieglitz to close the gallery; Camera Work ceased publication the same year. By 1918 Stieglitz began spending summers in Lake George, New York and in 1924 he married Georgia O'Keeffe. Stieglitz continued to promote photography and modern art through his galleries while increasing concentration on his own work until his death in 1946.
1. The Dictionary of Art, s.v."Stieglitz, Alfred.
2. Alfred Stieglitz, "An Apology," Camera Work 1 (1903): 15.
3. The Dictionary of Art, s.v."291."