Nancy and I are just back from seeing the new Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum—and it is fabulous!


Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand

November 10, 2010–April 10, 2011

Galleries for Drawings, Prints, and Photographs, 2nd floor

Metropolitan Museum of Art


Stieglitz was the first photographer ever to have his work at the Met:  in 1928 he donated 22 of his own photographs, and that December he wrote a letter to the curator of the MFA in Boston, “The Metropolitan Museum has opened its sacred halls to Photography… My photographs have performed a miracle!”  (quoted here from the excellent catalogue for this show, p. 6)  Whereas MoMA has been involved in photography as an art form from its earliest years, it is only in recent years that the Met has become an important force in the photography world.  Under the leadership of Maria Morris Hambourg, the Met established its Department of Photographs in 1992; and she was the curator in charge of it until 2004, when her protégé Malcolm Daniel took over leadership of the Department.  And, over the course of this period, the Met has become a place to go to see great exhibition of photography.  (The collection includes The Gilman Paper Collection, the Rubel Collection, and the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, among other works.  [for a more complete description, see the Met’s description])  Nancy and I often will wander into the Gilmore Gallery there just to see what happens to be on display; and the special shows the Department has mounted in recent years have often have led us to make a special trip.


But this show is one that stands out, as it contains incredible masterpieces from these three, related giants of the history of the art of photography in America.  It is definitely a must-see exhibit.  If you know the works of Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946), Edward Steichen (1879–1973), and Paul Strand (1890–1976), you will appreciate this marvelous opportunity to see this fabulous exhibition of many of their most important works; and if you are unfamiliar with their work, this will be your opportunity to see what you have been missing.


Rather than go on about how wonderful it is, I am instead going to present a series of images of the photographs in the show (that I have shamelessly stolen from the Met’s website about the show and the images from it).  I have also included below a review by Karen Rosenberg of the show from yesterday’s New York Times.


I have included photographs of each of the artists (Steichen’s photographs of Stieglitz and of himself; Stieglitz’ photograph of Strand).  There are nature photographs by each and cityscapes by each—including images of the only three extant prints of Steichen’s iconic photograph of The Flatiron (all three printed differently from the same negative of his photograph of Daniel Burnham’s great NYC building). I have also included a nude done by each (although hardest to come by for Strand)—and including a fabulous of by Stieglitz of Georgia O'Keeffe—Torso.  I have also included a wonderfully abstract piece by Strand, The Wire Wheel.


So…enjoy the images, then go see the show!  (You also may want to purchase the excellent catalogue from the show, done by the curator, Malcolm Daniel:  Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand:  Masterworks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  [Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press. 2010]  Available from the Met Store and and other book merchants.)



 Edward Steichen.  Alfred Stieglitz at 291, 1915.  Gum bichromate over platinum print


 Alfred Stieglitz.  Music - A Sequence of Ten Cloud Photographs, No. 1, 1922.  Platinum print


 Alfred Stieglitz.  The Street, Fifth Avenue, 1900–1901, printed 1903–1904.  Photogravure


Alfred Stieglitz.  From My Window at the Shelton, West, 1931.  Gelatin silver print


Alfred Stieglitz.  Georgia O'Keeffe—Torso, 1918.  Gelatin silver print




 Edward Steichen.  Self-portrait,  1917.  Platinum print


 Edward Steichen.  Woods Interior, 1899.  Platinum print


 Edward Steichen.  The Flatiron, 1904.  Gum bichromate over platinum print


 Edward Steichen.  The Flatiron, 1904, printed 1909.  Gum bichromate over platinum print


 Edward Steichen.  The Flatiron, 1904, printed 1905.  Gum bichromate over platinum print


 Edward Steichen.  The Little Round Mirror, 1901, printed 1905.  Gum bichromate over platinum print




 Alfred Stieglitz.  Paul Strand, 1917.  Silver-Platinum print


 Paul Strand.  Garden Iris—Georgetown, Maine, 1928.  Gelatin silver print


Paul Strand.  From the El, 1915.  Platinum print


 Paul Strand.  Wire Wheel, 1917.  Silver-platinum print


 Paul Strand.  Rebecca, New York, ca. 1923.  Palladium print




The New York Times

Art Review

Photography: A Coming-of-Age Story

Published: November 18, 2010

Like other major American museums, the Metropolitan was slow to recognize photography, but Alfred Stieglitz gave it a big push in the right direction. In 1928 this Photo-Secession pioneer donated 22 of his own works to the Met. They were the first photos to enter the collection.

Paul Strand’s “Geometric Backyards, New York” (1917), part of “Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


A few years later, in 1933, Stieglitz made a larger gift of more than 400 works by his contemporaries: Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Clarence White, Gertrude Käsebier and many of the other photographers he had promoted in his New York gallery, 291, and his influential journal, Camera Work.

The museum’s stunning “Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand,” mostly drawn from the collection, gives us just the big three — the impresario and his two greatest photographer discoveries. (Georgia O’Keeffe, arguably his best find in any medium, appears as a portrait subject.) They were a contentious group, if you could call them a group at all. Steichen made his mark in the early years of 291, while Strand appeared toward the end of the gallery’s run. In between Stieglitz was preoccupied with other art forms, notably abstract painting and sculpture.

Organized by Malcolm Daniel, the curator in charge of the Met’s photography department, “Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand” clearly delineates the strengths and weaknesses of its three distinct personalities. (Each has a gallery to himself.)

And though the pictures come from the collection, the show has an impressive story arc about photography’s coming of age. The exhibition segues from Steichen’s hazy, nostalgic Pictorialism to Strand’s crisp, forward-looking still lifes and cityscapes, with justly famous examples from each category.

Stieglitz’s own transition to a more clean-lined, geometric style is well documented in the first and largest gallery, with a rich selection of New York City views from early and late phases of his career. Other highlights include his piecemeal portraits of O’Keeffe and his cloud studies, or “Equivalents.”

“Winter, Fifth Avenue” (1893), taken with a hand camera on a Midtown street corner in blizzard conditions, romanticizes the city (and the photographer’s place in it). So does “The Terminal,” a picture taken the day after the storm; it shows a carriage driver watering his horses in the bitter cold, producing great clouds of steam. Stieglitz made several prints from this negative, an unassuming street view that somehow encapsulates his deep loneliness. “How fortunate the horses seemed, having a human being to tend to them,” he wrote.

Nearly three decades later he photographed the city from on high, looking out the windows of his 30th-floor apartment in the Shelton Hotel and his nearby 17th-floor gallery, An American Place. Here the metropolis is brisk and orderly, if still a bit alienating, epitomized by the neat scaffolding of a fast-rising skyscraper in the distance.

The Met’s show reaffirms that while Stieglitz was a great photographer, he was an even better cultivator of talent. In 1900 a 20-year-old named Edward Steichen paid a visit to Stieglitz on his way to Paris from Milwaukee. Just a few years later Steichen had made his name as a photographer and become Stieglitz’s indispensable European liaison, bringing work by artists like Cézanne and Picasso to 291.

Although Steichen’s shadowy nudes and foggy woods shared the fussy look of fin-de-siècle painting, they were products of state-of-the-art photographic technology. He was a virtuoso printer, employing as many different techniques and pigments as necessary to produce the desired pastel-like effect. In the Met’s three large exhibition prints of “The Flatiron” — the only ones known to exist — Steichen used a combination of gum bichromate and palladium to envelop the downtown landmark in Whistleresque mists of indigo and gray.

Back in Paris he lent a similar presence to Rodin’s plaster sculpture of Balzac, photographing it on a moonlit terrace. He had already paid homage to Rodin in a remarkable portrait, printing from two negatives to create a ménage of the artist, his “Thinker” and his “Monument to Victor Hugo.”

Steichen’s flair for portraiture ensured a steady income stream and some excellent social connections. After World War I he worked as the chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair; the Met has a smattering of these images, though its vision of Steichen is filtered through Stieglitz’s collection.

For the same reason Paul Strand is represented by early work, which fortunately is superb. Under Stieglitz’s direction he developed a precise, “brutal” (to use Stieglitz’s word) aesthetic that was in tune with the radical modernism of the 1913 Armory Show.

The Met has several of Strand’s stark cityscapes, “Wall Street” being the most famous example. (It’s shown as it appeared in an issue of Camera Work.) “Winter, Central Park, New York,” with its tree-branch shadows crisscrossing a tundralike expanse of white, seems to abstract the loneliness of Stieglitz’s snowy cityscapes. And “Geometric Backyards, New York,” taken from the rear window of Strand’s family’s town house on West 83rd Street, transforms a row of clotheslines into a Cubo-Futurist fantasia.

Strand’s humanism — nurtured early on by his teacher Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture School, and later apparent in his famous street shot of a blind woman — led him in a different direction. World War I was a factor. So was his falling out with Stieglitz, who had a flirtation with Strand’s wife, Rebecca (and photographed her nude at Lake George).

In 1929 Strand made a portrait of Stieglitz, who was having his own romantic issues. (O’Keeffe was in New Mexico, getting close — or so he feared — to a friend’s husband.) It’s a complicated picture, full of frustrations.

The central dynamic of “Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand” is just as complicated. One might see this show as a tale of two protégés moving on, Steichen and Strand outgrowing Stieglitz. But the story is told by Stieglitz, or at least inflected by his largesse.

“Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand” continues through April 10 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; (212) 535-7710,

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