Magazine article USA TODAY

Celebrating Three Giants of Photography

Magazine article USA TODAY

Celebrating Three Giants of Photography

Article excerpt

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THREE GIANTS of 20th-century American photography are being featured in the exhibition "Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand." The groundbreaking and diverse work of these artists is revealed through a presentation of 115 photographs, drawn entirely from the The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection. On view are a number of great treasures, including Alfred Stieglitz's famous portraits of Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Steichen's striking images of the Flatiron building, and Paul Strand's pioneering abstractions.

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Stieglitz (1864-1946) was a photographer of supreme accomplishment and a forceful and influential advocate for photography and modern art through his gallery "291" and sumptuous journal Camera Work. He also laid the foundation for the Met's collection of photographs. In 1928, he donated 22 of his own works to the Metropolitan; these were the first photographs to enter the museum's collection as works of art. In later decades, he gave the Met more than 600 photographs by his contemporaries, including Steichen and Strand.

Among Stieglitz's works to be featured in this exhibition are portraits, views of New York City from the beginning and end of his career, and the 1920s cloud studies he rifled "Equivalents," through which he sought to arouse in the viewer the emotional equivalent of his own state of mind at the time he made the photograph, and to show that the content of a photograph was different from its subject.

The exhibition also includes numerous photographs from Stieglitz's extraordinary composite portrait of O'Keeffe, part of a group of works selected for the museum's collection by O'Keeffe herself. Stieglitz made more than 330 images of the artist between 1917-37--of her face, torso, hands, or feet alone, clothed and nude, intimate and heroic, introspective and assertive. Through these photographs Stieglitz revealed O'Keeffe's strengths and vulnerabilities, and almost singlehandedly defined her public persona for generations to come.

Stieglitz's protege and gallery collaborator, Steichen (1879-1973), was the most talent ed exemplar of the Photo-Secession, the loosely-knit group of artists founded by Stieglitz in 1902, seceding, in his words, "from the accepted idea of what constitutes a photograph," but also from the camera clubs and other institutions dominated by a more retrograde establishment. In works such as "The Pond--Moonrise" (1904), made using a painstaking technique of multiple printing, Steichen rivaled the scale, color, and individuality of painting.

Steichen's three large variant prints of The Flatiron (1904) are prime examples of the conscious effort of Photo-Secessionists to assert the artistic potential of their medium. Steichen achieved coloristic effects reminiscent of Whistler's "Nocturne" paintings by brushing layers of pigment suspended in light-sensitive gum solution onto a platinum photograph. Although he used only one negative to create all three photographs, the variable coloring enabled him to create three significantly different images that convey the chromatic progression of twilight. The Metropolitan's three prints, all donated by Stieglitz in 1933, are the only exhibition prints of Steichen's iconic image.

In 1908, Steichen photographed the plaster of Rodin's sculpture of Honore de Balzac in the open air, by the light of the moon, making several exposures as long as an hour each. In "Balzac, The Silhouette--4 A.M.," the moonlight has transformed the plaster into a monumental phantom rising above the brooding nocturnal landscape. …

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