Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946), for example, was active in New York in the late 1890s and was
initially a practitioner in the ‘artistic’ sense of documentary photography, trying to emulate
or deliver what drawing and painting had been delivering. Photography was viewed as a
replacement for painting so the thinking was that the practices and values of art should be
subsumed within photography. However the new century, especially after World War I, saw a
growing respect for photography as an independent medium that could offer something different
and this was reflected in the work undertaken by Stieglitz in documenting the ephemeral nature
of everyday life.
In the image above, Stieglitz portrays the crudity of a fledgling transport system. The destination
board – Harlem – tells us that this is harsh winter weather in a poor area of the city. The image
shows how much effort the driver and horses have to put in to be able to operate under such
conditions – note the steam coming off the horses. Stieglitz was prepared to wait for four hours
to capture this image. He wanted something different and he got it.
Stieglitz was very concerned about the initial
treatment of immigrants arriving in large numbers
from Ireland and Europe, hoping for a warm
welcome but receiving the opposite. The authorities
were concerned about typhoid and other infectious
diseases and most immigrants were held in isolation
for weeks before being allowed into America.
For a biography of Steiglitz visit: www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/stgp/hd_stgp.htm
Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye (1999), a Masters of Photography documentary video about
the ‘new way of seeing’ that Stieglitz wanted to bring to American photography: