Photographer, writer, publisher, gallery owner, leader of the Photo-Secession, and mentor to numerous other photographers, Alfred Stieglitz was a pivotal force during the late 19th and 20th centuries in promoting photography in America and gaining its acceptance as an art form. He also pioneered in bringing modern art to this country through the avant-garde European and American work presented in the pages of his well-known journal, Camera Work, and at his gallery, "291." Stieglitz (born in Hoboken, New Jersey) first became interested in photography in the early 1880s while studying mechanical engineering in Germany at the polytechnic institute in Charlottenburg (now a suburb of Berlin). Following a class with the great photochemist Hermann Wilhelm Vogel, Stieglitz turned his attention to photography and soon began writing technical articles on the subject for European journals. In 1887 he won a prize for a photograph submitted to the Holiday Work Competition sponsored by Amateur Photographer magazine. When he returned to the United States three years later, Stieglitz became a partner in the Photochrome Engraving Company; running a business did not interest him, however, and his association with the company lasted only five years. In addition to pursuing his own photographic work and writing articles on pictorial photography for various American journals during the 1890s, Stieglitz became editor of the American Amateur Photographer in 1893. Four years later he took on the editorship of Camera Notes, the journal of the newly formed Camera Club of New York. In 1902 Stieglitz organized the first Photo-Secession exhibition at the National Arts Club in New York, launching an organization that was to play a major role in the fight for recognition of photography as an art form. At the end of the year he began publishing Camera Work, the journal of the Photo-Secession, which soon became one of the premier photographic publications of the day (the first issue, dated January 1903, was published in December 1902). In 1905, with the assistance of painter and photographer Edward Steichen, Stieglitz opened the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue. The gallery, which soon became known as "291," provided Stieglitz with a center from which to promote art photography and exhibit the work of its finest practitioners. In addition to presenting work by the most advanced American and European pictorial photographers, Stieglitz began showing the work of modern European artists, including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Cézanne. He also organized numerous exhibitions of art photography for museums and expositions in this country and in Europe, including the famous 1910 International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography at the Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo. After closing "291" in 1917, Stieglitz focused on his own work, beginning a series of portraits of artist Georgia O'Keeffe (whom he married in 1924) and a series of cloud pictures called Equivalents, which he exhibited in the 1920s at the Anderson Gallery in New York. During these years he also produced a group of photographs of New York City skyscrapers, as well as images of Lake George, New York. Stieglitz continued to photograph into the 1930s. He also ran two galleries from the mid-1920s until his death: the Intimate Gallery (1925-29) and An American Place (1929-46). Both galleries presented the work of a small group of American modernists, including O'Keeffe, Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Paul Strand, as well as Stieglitz's photographs. M.M.
George H. Seeley
George H. Seeley American, 1880-1955
The reclusive photographer George Henry Seeley spent virtually his entire life in his native Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Unlike many of his peers, he sought neither notoriety nor public adulation. His only extended absence was during his enrollment in the Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston, where he briefly studied painting and modeling. Returning in 1902, Seeley became supervisor of art in the Stockbridge public schools, and later a correspondent for a regional newspaper, the Springfield Republic. He devoted himself to photography and painting, becoming a notable still-life painter in his later years. He also held a longstanding proprietary role in the local Congregational church and was an authority on birds, maintaining a landing station and recording migratory patterns for the Biological Survey, based in Washington D.C.
As a photographer, Seeley turned down several professional offers that would have required him to move. He had presumably experimented with photography by 1902, when he visited the studio of F. Holland Day, who further encouraged him. The following year he received several substantial awards from Photo-Era magazine. In 1904 his 20 prints shown at the First American Salon in New York drew considerable praise, notably that of Alvin Langdon Coburn, who is believed to have introduced Seeley's work to Alfred Stieglitz. Seeley was a member of both the Photo-Secession and the Salon Club of America. Although shown and published by Stieglitz, he preferred the attitudes and subjects of small-town life over the shifting politics of the world of organized photography. T.W.F.
W. W. Renwick American, 1864-1933
William W. Renwick (born in Lenox, Massachusetts) was active as an amateur photographer during the early years of the 20th century. After receiving a degree in mechanical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, Renwick began architectural training in the New York office of his uncle, James Renwick, designer of St. Patrick's Cathedral and Grace Church, and also spent time studying painting and sculpture in Europe. He assisted in the design of several New York churches and after 1900 worked on his own, specializing in ecclesiastical architecture and decoration. During his career, Renwick became known for his development of "fresco relief," a type of mural decoration combining painting and sculpture.
Renwick's involvement with photography seems to have begun around the turn of the century. A member of the Camera Club of New York, he was given a one-person show there in 1901. In 1902 Alfred Stieglitz included his work in the display of American photography at the Esposizione Internationale d'Arte Decorativa Moderna in Turin, Italy. That same year Stieglitz also included Renwick in the first Photo-Secession exhibition at the National Arts Club in New York.
Although never a member of the Photo-Secession, in 1904 Renwick took part in the group's sponsored exhibition of American pictorial photographs, which appeared first at the Corcoran Art Galleries in Washington, D.C., and then traveled to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. Little information is available about Renwick's photographic career after this, although his image Nude was reproduced in Camera Work in 1907. M.M.