Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005
Not on view
From 1902, when he founded the Photo-Secession, through 1904, Alfred Stieglitz was largely occupied with the publication of the group's quarterly, "Camera Work," with contacting pictorial photographers abroad, and with organizing a score of exhibitions in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and across Europe. In 1905, Edward Steichen persuaded Stieglitz that the Secessionists must show in New York as well. Arranging for Stieglitz to rent three small rooms next to his at 291 Fifth Avenue, Steichen refurbished them as the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession. They would become the laboratory where Stieglitz urged Pictorialist photographers toward modernism under the catalyst of recent European art, introduced to America for the first time in these very rooms. In connection with the inauguration of the galleries in the fall of 1905, Steichen created a poster showing a photographer silhouetted against a green field beneath a golden orb. His quintessential fin-de-siècle design suggests that the frock-coated photographer stalking by moonlight has a vaguely mystical quest. Surprisingly, Steichen's source was neither pastoral nor crepuscular--it was a snapshot of Stieglitz with a Graflex on a bridge (also in the Gilman collection), a photograph taken just moments before or after this one. The disjunction between the romantic connotations of the poster and the urban, industrial setting of the snapshot reflects the dichotomy between Steichen's late-nineteenth- and Steiglitz's early-twentieth-century styles. Like the poster, the photograph is also utopian, but in a more modern idiom. Amid passing pedestrians, the wind-buffeted machine-age hero has perched temporarily on a steel girder in an effort to close the gap between art, everyman, and modern life. By deftly capturing a highly symbolic stance, position, and activity, the unidentified author of this picture managed to suggest Stieglitz's progressive ideals, his crusade for modern art, and his growing perception of photography as a spontaneous, instinctive apprehension of life--an art of pure seeing no longer in need of pictorialist camouflage.
Inscription: Inscribed in pencil on print, verso C: "3"
Edward Steichen; [Brent Sikkema, Boston]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, May 22, 1984