Alfred Stieglitz was an influential photographer who spent his life fighting for the recognition of photography as a valid art form. He was a pioneering photographer, editor and gallery owner who played pivotal role in defining and shaping modernism in the United States. (Lowe 23). He took pictures in a time when photography was considered as only a scientific curiosity and not an art. As the controversy over the art value of photography became widespread, Stieglitz began to fight for the recognition of his chosen medium. This battle would last his whole life.
Edward Stieglitz, father of Alfred, was born in Germany in 1833. He grew up on a farm, loved nature, and was an artist at heart. Legend has it that, independent and strong willed, Edward Stieglitz ran away from home at the age of sixteen because his mother insisted on upon starching his shirt after he had begged her not to (Lowe 23). Edward would later meet Hedwig Warner and they would have their first son, Alfred. Alfred was the first of six born to his dad Edward and mom Hedwig. As a child Alfred was remembered as a boy with thick black hair, large dark eyes, pale fine skin, a delicately modeled mouth with a strong chin (Peterson 34). In 1871 the Stieglitz family lived at 14 East 60th street in Manhattan. No buildings stood between Central Park and the Stieglitz family home. As Stieglitz got older he started to show interest in photography, posting every photo he could find on his bedroom wall. It wasn’t until he got older that his photography curiosity begin to take charge of his life.
Stieglitz formally started photography at the age of nineteen, during his first years at the Berlin Polytechnic School. At this time photography was in its infancy as an art form. Alfred learned the fine arts of photography by watching a local photographer in Berlin working in the store’s dark room. After making a few pictures of his room and himself, he enrolled in a photochemistry course. This is where his photography career would begin. His earliest public recognition came from England and Germany. It began in 1887 when Stieglitz won the first of his many first prizes in a competition. The judge who gave him the award was Dr. P.H. Emerson, then the most widely known English advocate of photography as an art (Doty 23). Dr. Emerson later wrote to Stieglitz about his work sent in to the competition: “It is perhaps late for me to express my admiration of the work you sent into the holiday competition. It was the spontaneous work in the exhibition and I was delighted with much of it”, (Bry 11). The first photographer organization Alfred joined while still in Berlin, was the German Society of the Friends of Photography. After returning to the United States 1890, Stieglitz joined the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York. These experiences would later help him in years to come.
By 1902 Stieglitz had become the authority in his chosen field. Stieglitz found that his achievements were not enough to win recognition for photography. Finally in 1902 he founded an entirely new photography group of his own, the Photo Secession. The focus of the Photo Secession was the advancement of pictorial photography. Stieglitz being the leader gathered a talented group of American photographers headed toward the same common goal, to demonstrate photography as an art form( Lowe 54). This was the first of many Photo Secession shows through which Stieglitz set out and demonstrated photography as an art. Their first Photo Secession exhibition was held at the National Arts Club in New York. Photo Secession shows were supported by galleries all over the world as well as Stieglitz’s own gallery. All these events were reported in Stieglitz’s weekly magazine Camera Work, which Stieglitz founded, edited, and published in fifty volumes from its beginning in 1903 until its end in 1917. Although the Photo Secession group never dissolved, it gradually diminished as an organized group. Stieglitz continued to show new photographic work when he believed it was important. It was all part of his fight for photography, but the battleground and the participants had changed.