Alfred Stieglitz was born in Hoboken, NJ, USA in 1864 to German parents. His father was a rather unconventional man who dabbled in painting and who was a general lover of the arts. His family were quite well off and liberal in their beliefs, so his early years were one of privilege and free expression.
Stieglitz's photography spanned fifty years, beginning in the mid 1880's. Once he discovered photography it became an obsession and he became determined to become a master of the art form.
His early work was very much in the vogue of his contemporaries, being pictures that told a story; in a similar way paintings of the time did also. In fact his work was often mistaken for representations of paintings.
After a brief spell in Germany learning mechanical engineering, he returned to New York where he started working as a photo engraver. However he soon became disillusioned with this process and began to change his photographic style to a more straightforward approach, where he believed that the creativity of the image was best achieved by being true to the capabilities of the camera.
He began to use a small handheld Kodak camera, which was introduced in 1888. This small camera allowed Alfred Stieglitz more freedom to take everyday street scenes. He worked for the magazine American Amateur photographer and in 1897 founded Camera Notes for the Camera Club of New York.
Although he won prizes and held exhibitions for his work, he is better known for his work in promoting the medium of photography as an art form.
In 1903 he resigned from Camera notes and began his own magazine called Camera work.
He also founded a group known as the Photo-Secession group, which was a group of leading photographers who Stieglitz described as "seceding from the accepted idea of what constitutes a photograph".
He opened several galleries in 1905 and the gallery "291" became a regular meeting place for new avant-garde artists of the time. Via these galleries Alfred Stieglitz began to influence the art scene with new ideas and vision, as well as providing support and encouragement for up and coming artists.
Stieglitz photographic work mainly consisted of images of New York daily life and then later of his wife Georgia O'Keefe. His New York pictures were similar in style to soft focus pictorialism, however he rarely tampered with his negatives or print to achieve this effect.
This effect was often achieved by shooting in difficult lighting conditions and bad weather, which gave similar qualities to his pictures only achieved by other via post manipulation.
Alfred Stieglitz helped to increase the scope for the art of photography and also established it as a legitimate art form in its own right.
The Steerage (1907) (see photo above)
This image was considered by Stieglitz himself to be a work of importance as it relied on "related shapes and on the deepest human feeling". It was taken on board the passenger liner Kaider Wilhelm 11 whilst he was on his way to Europe in 1907.
He found the scene in the steerage area, where the poorer people had to travel, far more interesting than his own first class compartments. Seeing it as a series of shapes and reminded him of work produced by the painter Rembrandt.
Stieglitz's love of taking pictures of natural scenes contributed to this image. He very much liked the urban landscape and how people and buildings interacted with each other on a day-to-day basis.
City of Ambitions (1910)
This a nice urban scene with a great contrast in the hard industrialization represented by the skyscrapers to the soft natural water, shimmering in the foreground.
This video about Stieglitz tells the story of his philosophy regarding photography. It is very interesting and lasts about 3 minutes.
A 3 minute video tells the story of Stieglitz's philosophy regarding photography.