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New York Museum Shows Steiglitz Photographs

  • Peter Fedynsky

A coachman in a snowstorm by Alfred Stieglitz (1893)

A coachman in a snowstorm by Alfred Stieglitz (1893)

Alfred Stieglitz is considered a central figure in the history of photography. He lived most of his life in New York and in the early years of the 20th century documented the city's transformation into a grand metropolis. But Stieglitz's New York also conveys a sense of loneliness at odds with the city's image of hustle and bustle.

The exhibit at New York's Seaport Museum brings together 39 Stieglitz photographs for the first time since he displayed them nearly 80 years ago.

Stieglitz is considered a giant in photography. He pushed the technical limits of the young medium during the early decades of the 20th century. Curator Bonnie Yochelson says Stieglitz worked when the camera was still a primitive instrument. "It was his personal goal to do things that nobody else tried to do, like photographing at night, photographing in stormy conditions, or in rainy conditions, or at dawn or at dusk under very difficult lighting conditions," she said.

Stieglitz was born in 1864. He played a pivotal role in turning the medium into an art form and in promoting the work of other photographers and painters of that period. Yochelson says Stieglitz's own work expressed profound loneliness. "He was a man of deep romantic emotions, so his New York -- especially in his early pictures, well in all of his pictures -- don't really capitalize on the bustle and hustle and energy of New York, as much as New York as a place that expresses his feeling of loneliness," she said.

One of his most famous images, taken in 1893, captures the loneliness -- of a coachman in a snowstorm. Stieglitz said he waited - alone - for three hours to capture it. "One of the secrets to that picture is that it's cropped. It was actually a horizontal picture and there were people on either side of the street and he cropped it into a vertical that eliminated those people," said Yochelson.

Stieglitz also documented New York as skyscrapers first rose in its midst, never venturing far from his Manhattan apartment and sometimes shooting his photographs through his apartment window.

Bonnie Yochulson says New York was a pioneer among modern cities. She says people everywhere can recognize the spirit of commerce and progress captured by Alfred Stieglitz. The exhibit runs through mid January, 2011.

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