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.
Alvin Langdon Coburn
Alvin Langdon Coburn British and American, b. United States, 1882-1966
Born in Boston and later naturalized a British citizen, Alvin Langdon Coburn received his first camera at age eight. Ten years later, encouraged by his cousin -- the idiosyncratic, yet highly talented photographer F. Holland Day-Coburn showed his work in a major London exhibition. In 1902-3 he was a founding member of the Photo-Secession and the Linked Ring, two of the most important photographic organizations of their time. His work in the medium continued at a high level for the next quarter century.
Coburn was influenced not only by Day, but also by painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, the impressionists, and Japanese woodblock prints, championed by his teacher Arthur Wesley Dow and Boston scholar Ernest Fenellosa. His artistic background allowed him to accept modernism as well. Although a founding member of the Pictorial Photographers of America in 1916 with Gertrude Käsebier and Clarence H. White, the following year Coburn made some of the first abstract photographs as a part of the vorticist movement, through which he became associated with Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound.
Coburn produced a wide range of work, both in subject and style. Technically proficient, he excelled at the gravure process, producing large editions of original prints for portfolios and books. Among his collaborators were Henry James and H. G. Wells. Although Coburn abandoned photography from the mid-1920s to the mid-1950s, his work continued to be influential, and he took up the medium again near the end of his life. T.W.F.
Note: Coburn emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1912 and became a naturalized British citizen in 1932. Coburn was a founding member of the Photo Secession, New York City, in 1902, and of the Pictorial Photographers of America in 1916. Coburn was associated with the Linked Ring in 1903, and the Royal Photographic Society in the United Kingdom. American photographer, became a naturalized British citizen. -Barbara Tannenbaum
Clarence H. White
Clarence H. White American, 1871-1925
Born in Carlisle, Ohio, Clarence Hudson White moved to the town of Newark in 1887. He began to photograph as a hobby in 1893, quickly becoming quite skilled, and by 1896 his works were recognized by the Ohio Photographers Association. Entirely self-taught, his mastery of the medium was based on his ability to create balanced compositions and to render the subtle effects of natural light. He explored various materials for their aesthetic possibilities, including platinum and gum bichromate prints, and, after 1906, palladium prints.
In 1898 White showed his work in Philadelphia, where it came to the attention of Alfred Stieglitz and Joseph Keiley. His images were included in the 1899 Photographic Salon in London, which had been organized by the Linked Ring. From 1900-10 White exhibited in every national and international photographic show in London, Paris, Glasgow, Berlin, and Vienna. Moving to New York City in 1906, he began a career as an educator, lecturing on photography at Columbia University Teachers College (1907-25) and the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (1908-21).
In 1910 White began teaching summer classes in Seguinland, Maine, which led him to open the Clarence H. White School of Photography in New York in 1914. During summer he continued to teach workshops in New York, Connecticut, and Maine. Among his accomplished students were Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, Paul J. Outerbridge, Ralph Steiner, and Karl F. Struss. Named a member of the Linked Ring in 1900, White was nominated to the Photo-Secession in 1902. He was the first president of the Pictorial Photographers of America, helping to found it with Gertrude Käsebier and others in 1916.
Influenced by Japanese art, the work of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and other progressive sources, White's style is imaginative and gentle, often underscored by his use of platinum papers. He believed that the photograph was a work of fine art in its own right. Although deeply involved and influential in New York's competitive world of photography, White produced his best work from 1893-1906, photographing simple, open scenes of his family and friends in their domestic, midwestern environment. T.W.F.
John Francis Strauss
John Francis Strauss American, active 1900s
Through the Camera Club of New York, which he joined in 1898, John Francis Strauss became a close associate of Alfred Stieglitz. He served on the editorial board of Camera Notes, the club journal that Stieglitz edited from 1897-1902, and then acted as associate editor of Stieglitz's new publication, Camera Work, from 1903-10. Strauss took part in exhibitions at the club and, as one of the original Fellows of the Photo-Secession, participated in many of that group's early exhibitions, including A Collection of American Pictorial Photographs, organized by Stieglitz in 1904 for the Corcoran Art Galleries, Washington, D.C. Stieglitz also reproduced one of Strauss's images in the July 1903 issue of Camera Work. M.M.