Art Appreciation: Alfred Stieglitz’s Photography

Alfred Stieglitz spent his life in photography just to credit it as a compelling form of art. At these ages, photography was disregarded as a form of art since it was believed that art was not made by machines but was done by work of hands. He tried to imply that the camera was used as a tool the same way as a paintbrush is also used as a tool in art. In his views, he suggested that there should be many schools of photographic art just to form a full basis of arts since there were lots of schools of painting.

In his work, he tried to explain the relationship between photography and art by a movement known as Pictorialism. He was trying to prove that photography is like art, the same way as drawing and painting. In this movement, he took a picture of a steam engine with a landscape that gave a well-defined Impression. They manipulated the photos in a dark room with some mechanism that made them look like they are artistically drawn. This was done to make photography look like part of art tradition. The steam engine had a meaning to the people since it was made by the hands of man the same way as photography.

In painting, there’s an aspect of Impression where machines were considered as a form of modernity with painters. Therefore, Alfred Stieglitz used the steam engine as his subject too but retained photography as his symbol. Despite Alfred Stieglitz’s interest in photography as an art form, his interest was also in how photography can occur in the moment of motion. In 1892, he took a stopping motion photo of a horse-drawn carriage and the snow blown by the wind. He took a naturally occurring moment to get the natural atmosphere that will create a mood-related to art. The weather made the photograph look like a brushstrokes effect in art and that made his artistic idea.

Alfred Stieglitz had a theory that the center of attraction of a photo should be in a sharp focus while the secondary images left blurry. He had an impression of naturalism relating to the human eye that has the tendency of focusing on one area while the surrounding fades away. In October 1911, he took a photograph in spring showers while in New York. He used the weather to make the photo’s background look blurry and eventually made its background uniformly toned. By doing this, he added visual weight to the Image (Kathleen, 1976).

In 1907, Alfred Stieglitz understood the difference between photography and works of art. He took an initiative and decided to treat photography on a different level of understanding. He took a photograph of the Steerage having a sharp focus with clear black and white images, unlike the previous photos that had a limited tonal variation and atmospheric effect. This photo also had form and composition as key elements of photography (Scholz, 1972).

Despite the turning point of Stieglitz’s pictorial photography, the picture serves as a comment on the economic division in society. This is seen in how the picture is divided by the gangplank with people at the lower and the upper deck. The people at the lower deck are those who can’t afford staterooms while the above line is for the wealthy and that gives the symbolic division for the people in the picture.


Bernhard Scholz, (1972)”Dissertation and perception in Susanne Langer’s Aesthetics of writing.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 31: 215-226.

Desmond Kathleen, (1976) Photography as a Function of Visual Aesthetic Judgement, p.54.

Photographers’ Gallery, (1977) understanding Photography: the Beauty of Photography New York: Pantheon Books, 7.