Viewing Stieglitz Whole — Alfred Stieglitz: A Legacy of Light
by Katherine Hoffman

A Legacy of Light

Alfred Stieglitz: A Legacy of Light
BY Katherine Hoffman
(Yale University Press, 2011)

From the Publisher:

“Hoffman explores Stieglitz’s roles as photographer, editor, writer, and gallery director; how they intersected with his personal life — including his marriage to artist Georgia O’Keeffe — and his place in the cultural milieu of the twentieth century. Excerpts from previously unpublished correspondence between Stieglitz and O’Keeffe reveal the fervor and complexity of their relationship as well as his passion for photography and modern art and his ongoing struggle to have photography recognized as an established artistic medium. These letters, along with his work as an editor and writer of short articles, illuminate Stieglitz’s literary side, thus giving a new perspective on his total œuvre.

Generously illustrated with 300 images, this intriguing, beautifully written book separates the photographer’s true personality from the myths surrounding him and highlights his lasting legacy: the works he left behind.”

Like his photographs, Alfred Stieglitz’s life moved elusively between niches. Sometimes fiction, sometimes fact, sometimes lyrical, sometimes prosaic, this protean figure of American art could be an enchanting impresario or an excruciating snob. As a businessman he was Houdini, able to cheat economic ruin by unaccountable feats of legerdemain, though through the various incarnations of his New York galleries passed some of the greatest painters, writers, and, occasionally, photographers of the early twentieth century. His belief in art’s capacity for social and personal transformation was absolute. As a lover he was ardent and fickle. He had beautiful penmanship, an impressive mustache, and a notable head of hair.

A clip from critic Robert Hughes’s 1997 television series American Visions endures. The hand-cranked movie camera captures a capering Stieglitz on the sidewalk, perhaps Fifth Avenue in New York, beaming as he repeatedly approaches the camera, passes it, then skitters away in the opposite direction. The camera’s manual unevenness suggests the excitement the operator may have had, collaborating with the great man. His face lights up the screen when he doffs his distinctive crushed top, broad-brimmed hat. Turning away, the energy is dimmed, enwrapped by the signature cape that only the most stylish can carry off without irony. Stieglitz is clearly in that camp.

…this protean figure of American art could be an enchanting impresario or an excruciating snob…. His belief in art’s capacity for social and personal transformation was absolute.

Viewing Stieglitz (1864–1946) as a living, breathing, smiling, playfully animated person is something of a shock. A century ago this master of modern art was instrumental in preparing what many regard as the most important art event of the twentieth century in America — the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, or the Armory Show, as it came to be identified by its venue. His photographs and his legacy as advocate and promoter seem almost super-human; how could a real person have had this level of influence? And, how is it that he could allow himself the time to cavort on the streets of Manhattan? Didn’t he have places to go?

The two dust jacket cover images of Katherine Hoffman’s biography offer telling, if oblique, responses. On the front is a Stieglitz portrait of Dorothy Norman, a young protégé who became his lover and then the leading female figure of his last fifteen years (she oversaw the business of An American Place, the last iteration of the Stieglitz gallery lineage, and often photographed Stieglitz there as his health declined). Norman, who had scarcely met Stieglitz when the photograph was made, is turned fully away from the camera; strangely, her clothes, with buttons running down the back and a white-band collar, suggest that the wearer should be facing the viewers, and that her head and face have been obscured by a tight-fitting black cap. Thus, she assumes the female equivalency to the secretive Stieglitz in the film clip.

Page 1 of 2 1 2 View All

Printed from Cerise Press:

Permalink URL:

Page 1 of 2 was printed. Select View All pagination to print all pages.