ALFRED STIEGLITZ has always had a special place in the history of American art: A photographer of distinct genius, he was the founder, the central figure and the spokesman of the Photo-Session, that group of pictorialist photographers that dominated artistic photography in the first two decades of this century and which included Edward Steichen, Gertrude Kasebier, Clarence White, F. Holland Day and Alvin Langdon Coburn, among others. He was the editor of Camera Work , the journal of the Photo-Secession, one of the most beautiful publications ever printed and one of the most desired by today's collectors. He operated "291," the most progressive art gallery in pre-World War I America, "The Intimate Gallery" (1925-1929) and "An American Place" 1929-1946), which were devoted exclusively to artists of his circle, including Geogia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Arthur G. Dove and John Marin. He was a passionate and forceful advocate, not only of photography as a fine art, but also of that artistic movement we now call Modernism. He was the outspoken champion of a modern esthetic that was distinctly and uniquely American. All this in a man of strong personal charisma, propelled by a domineering ego. Small wonder that Stieglitz's importance to American photography and American art is virtually axiomatic. His followers, those members of his circle who remained close to him through the years, have canonized him as "the American Seer," and that is exactly the image of him they wish to perpetuate.
Since he is such a seminal figure for modern American photography and since there has not been a major museum exhibition devoted to him for some years, it should not be surprising that there is a revival of interest in Alfred Stieglitz among photographic historians young enough not to have been touched directly by the force of his personality. Perhaps the most important examples of the reexamination of Stieglitz now in progress include: last year's exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of photographs from Stieglitz's personal collection (and the excellent catalogue by Weston Naef) and of his portraits of Georgia O'Keeffe; Peter Bunnell's current Guggenheim fellowship to complet his long-awaited study of Stieglitz; and the National Gallery's projected exhibition and catalogue on "the key set," the collection of Stieglitz's own selection of the best prints he made from each of his negatives.
This reexamination is well served in Georgia , (CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE) O'keeffe: A Portrait by Alfred Stieglitz , which is one of the most interesting books about Stieglitz and his photographs that has appeared in some time -- and certainly the most beautiful. It reproduces 51 photographs Stieglitz took of O'Keeffe between 1917 and 1933. Selected from some 500 different negatives taken over the course of their relationship -- lovers since 1918, they were married in 1924 -- these photographs comprise a serial portrait of a magnificently beautiful woman that is unique in photography. Taken individually, the pictures are intimate, passionate, sensual and occasionally erotic; all of them are graphically powerful. Quite simply, they are extraordinary photographs by a great master of the medium. The book presents them without pretense and with complete respect for their dignity as esthetic objects. The reproductions, by Meridian Gravure, are actual size and accuratley convey the color and the tonal and tactile qualities of Stieglitz's original platinum and palladium prints. O'Keeffe's introduction, which is perhaps the most she has ever written about Alfred Stieglitz and about their relationship, is honest and direct, a candid but eloquent assessment of the human being. It is a refreshing perspective of Stieglitz, which reveals more than it describes. Georgia O'keffee: A Portrait by Alfred Stieglitz is remarkably satisfying, bothas a picture book of the highest quality and as an insight into the personality of a truly great artist.
The first edition of America and Alfred Stieglitz was published in 1934 to honor Stieglitz's 70th birthday. It is a collection of articles written for the occasion by members of his circle, accompanied by a number of plates summarizing his contribution as an artist and esthete. by a number of plates summarizing his contribution as an artist and esthete. Since it was published as an act of devotion clearly intended to bolster Stieglitz' spirits -- he was in ill-health and increasingly isolated from the contempaorary art world -- its fulsome tone and effusive language is understandable, if a little difficult to take seriously today. Indeed, America and Alfred Stieglitz is best appreciated only as a measure of the reverence felt for Stieglitz by the members of his circle. This is not enough, however, to justify a new, expensive edition, even one with an expanded illustration section and good color plates, particularly since the original edition is neither especially rare nor much more expensive than this new one. Indeed, at $18.50, the Aperture paperback is no bargain: The "new format" is an odd-sized oblong that is uncomfortable to hold and inconvenient to shelve, the printing is in pretentious double columns which give it a, Scriptures-like look but make it unpleasant to read, and it has an outrageously flimsy paper cover that does not support the pages and is guaranteed to tear off. The only real improvement is in the quality of the reproductions, which has always been a strong point of Aperture publications. Then why this new edition? It is clearly a reaction to the revisionism which characterizes contemporary photographic history and which apparently seems to Stieglitz's devotees to threaten his position. Dorothy Norman, an intimate of Stieglitz who has taken upon herself the responsibility for preserving the Stieglitz legend intact, admits as much in the new preface: "It is to be hoped that this publication, created by those who knew their subject and work, will aid in setting the record straight." It seems to me that in this case, Stieglitz's record could have been better served. CAPTION: Picture, Alfred Stieglitz's photographs of Georgia O'Keeffe; Copyright (c) The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Alfred Stieglitz Collection)