Following Alfred Stieglitz With My Head in the Clouds
It’s strange how you can go for months without thinking about one of your favourite artists and then through a series of seemingly serendipitous events they are thrust into the forefront of your mind again. This week this has been the case with one of my photography inspirations, Alfred Stieglitz.
It all started with the meeting of our photography group earlier in the week. We are so fortunate that one of our group members has a passion for collecting old cameras and she had brought in a collection to show us. During our discussion of these amazing pieces of photographic paraphernalia we began talking about the role of photography in art history, specifically in respects to photography being considered an art form. In short, up until very recently it simply wasn’t by many. This immediately made me think of Stieglitz, who I discovered during my first year of university on an introduction to American art module, because unlike the art establishment, here was a man who pioneered the craft and art of photography, as well as the careers of many other artists.
So it was not that some were not treating the medium as art, but that, as with so many new forms and practices, it has had a long struggle to be recognised as such. And this is still something that is in evidence today, as I was part of a conversation recently where it was asked how photography can be featured on the same platform as drawing and painting – the thrust of the point being, they are not comparable in terms of artistic merit.
Well, looking a at Stieglitz’s work (and that of many others, too numerous to name!) it is clear that there is an art to photography. Just like drawing, just because you can see the image you want to capture in your head, it does not necessarily mean that this will translate to the camera lens. It takes a skill to capture an image that can evoke all the senses in the way that being in that place and experiencing it with all your senses does. To put it simply, your camera is not simply a conduit for the eye, to take truly great images it has to be a mirror to your whole being.
The artistic merit was also raised again by one of our group who noted that many of her students who haven’t previously studied the formal elements of art – light, tone, composition, etc. find photography difficult because these are the primary principles that underpin the medium. Again, I found Stieglitz fighting to the forefront of the conversation as we were asked for suggestions of photographers who take images of hands for one of her students. Anyone familiar with his work will have clear and evocative memories of Stieglitz’s images of his second wife, artist Georgia O’Keefe, and the beautiful close up imagery he captured of her hands and fragmented figure.
So a few days later, when I was trying to coax our twelve month old cat down from the garage roof (she had been chased by a bigger, meaner feline), I was suddenly struck by the beauty of the sky. The colours, the shapes and tone created by the diminishing light. And once again, there Stieglitz was at the forefront of my mind, as I recalled his Equivalents series. This particular set of images were simply of the sky and cloud formations that Stieglitz and sought to embody abstract principles that reflected the self.
With the sky looming, so beautifully and so fleetingly, above me, I needed to capture it in the same way that Stieglitz had. So here are some of my shots, unedited, where I experimented a little with different exposure settings.
(Affiliate links in this passage) If you want to learn more about Stieglitz, his life and his work, I can’t recommend this biography by Sue Davidson Lowe enough. And a great set of books for all of his images can be found here: