The Steerage

Alfred Stieglitz (American, Hoboken, New Jersey 1864–1946 New York)
1907, printed in or before 1913
32.2 x 25.8 cm (12 11/16 x 10 3/16 in.)
Photographs, Prints
Credit Line:
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933
Accession Number:
Not on view
As proprietor of the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession and publisher of the photographic journals Camera Notes and Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz was a major force in the promotion and elevation of photography as a fine art in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Steerage is considered Stieglitz's signature work, and was proclaimed by the artist and illustrated in histories of the medium as his first "modernist" photograph. It marks Stieglitz's transition away from painterly prints of Symbolist subjects to a more straightforward depiction of quotidian life.

The Steerage began its life as a masterpiece four years after its creation, with Stieglitz's publication of it in a 1911 issue of Camera Work devoted exclusively to his photographs in the "new" style, together with a Cubist drawing by Picasso. Stieglitz loved to recount how the great painter had praised the collagelike dispersal of forms and shifting depths of The Steerage. Canonized retroactively, the photograph allowed Stieglitz to put his chosen medium on par with the experimental European painting and sculpture he imported and exhibited so presciently at his gallery. In 1915, he lavishly reprinted the image in large-scale photogravure on both vellum and japanese paper for inclusion in his last magazine, 291.
Alfred Stieglitz

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Pictorialism in New York, 1900-1915," February 10, 1998–May 31, 1998.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 38," June 29, 2004–September 26, 2004.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand," November 8, 2010–April 10, 2011.

Stieglitz, Alfred, ed. Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly 36 (October 1911).

Stieglitz, Alfred, ed. 291 7–8 (September–October 1915).

Greenough, Sarah. Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set. Vol. 2. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 2002. no. 312.

Messinger, Lisa, ed. Stieglitz and his Artists: Matisse to O'Keeffe: the Alfred Stieglitz Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. p. 3, fig. 2.

On May 14, 1907 Stieglitz and his family sailed to Europe aboard the fashionable Kaiser Wilhelm II. This picture was most likely taken several days later when the ship was moored in Plymouth, England. (Greenough, Key Set)