Georgia O'Keeffe's hands are the best- known subjects of Alfred Stieglitz' camera. But her feet, torso and face were also documented. He made over 300 photographs of the artist, who was his wife; a roomful is on view in the National Gallery's new ground floor as part of a rich exhibition of his work.
"Alfred Stieglitz," the first retrospective in almost 50 years, includes 171 photographs, many exhibited for the first time. They were selected from the master set of 1,600 Stieglitz photos given to the National Gallery by O'Keeffe.
Director J. Carter Brown said this is the first in an increased schedule of photography exhibits in the West Building's new graphics galleries.
Stieglitz, who made his first photographs in 1883 when he was 19, argued that photography should be regarded as a distinct medium. Clearly, he proved the flexibility of the form. His experimental chemical combinations resulted in strange tints and textures. His photos of New York skyscrapers were novel; the Flatiron Building was a favorite, a symbol of modern New York at the turn of the century.
He began with objective reality, as in "The Steerage," which opens the show. (That famous shot is actually of travelers shipping back to Europe, not immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, as one might suppose.) Later, he found symbols to express subjective thoughts, as in the cloud studies on view in another room.
Two self-portraits pique our curiosity. One, from 1890, captures the artist as a bearded young man stretched out on stone steps. The other shows him, with mustache and pince-nez, dark and serious at 43. A series of self-portraits would have been fascinating, revealing aging eyes behind the artistic visions. ALFRED STIEGLITZ -- At the National Gallery of Art West Building through May 8.