Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ralph Steiner

"These days I think the composers of music influence me more than any photographers or visual creators. I see something exciting or lovely and think to myself: 'If Papa Haydn or Wolfgang Amadeus or the red-headed Vivaldi were here with a camera, they'd snap a picture of what's in front of me.' So I take the picture for them."

"The Bridge," 1929

"Ham and Eggs," 1929

"The Village," 1922

"American Rual Baroque," 1929

Ralph Steiner Biography from Scheinbaum & Russek, Ltd:

Ralph Steiner, while studying chemical engineering at Dartmouth, discovered photography. Steiner has a scientific bent as well as a lyric visual one, and has used his knowledge of chemistry and physics with great enthusiasm to solve photographic problems.

After Dartmouth, Steiner studied at the Clarence H. White School of Photography in l921 and l922, although he was not in agreement with the painting-oriented design instruction that dominated the curriculum.

In the late l920's he met Paul Strand in New York. Strands's prints were a revelation that left Steiner deeply dissatisfied with the commercial work he was then doing. He began teaching himself better craftsmanship, working with an 8 x l0" camera format, photographing "objects with texture," producing such well-known images as his Nehi sign pictures, his Ford car series, and his photograph of a rocking chair.

Steiner's career has alternated between periods doing advertising, public relations (Gypsy Rose Lee was one of his subjects), and editorial photography to accumulate funds, and periods spent making still photographs and films for himself. His second effort as a cinematographer, "H2O," is often cited as the second earliest American art film (after Manhatta by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler). Steiner also made "Cafe Universal," an improvised, semi-dramatic anti-war film based on drawings by George Grosz, cast with leading members of the Group Theater. His film on a New York City dump starred Elia Kazan in a largely improvised role.

Steiner and Paul Strand were hired by Pare Lorentz as the cameramen on "The Plow That Broke the Plains;" they directed much of that landmark documentary as well. With Willard Van Dyke, and Paul Strand, Steiner shot and directed the documentary "The City," which ran for a year at the New York World's Fair of 1939. In the late 1930's he worked as a picture editor on "PM," and in advertising and public relations work. His opting of the film rights to the biography of H.S. Maxim, an eccentric 19th century inventor, led him to Hollywood where he spent four years as a writer/executive. On his glad return to New York, with an out-of-date portfolio, Walker Evans gave him photographic assignments for Fortune.

In the 1960's Steiner finally began to be able to devote most of his time to his personal photography and cinematography. He moved to rural Vermont in 1963, spending summers on a Maine island, and his work since then includes many lyrical images from those landscapes, including trees, coastline hills, and wash on rural clotheslines.

Many of Steiner's lyrical, sometimes gently satirical photographs can be seen as conveying, along with sophistication and concern, a sense of wonder about the 20th century which he entered at the age of one, and yet has been so much a part of.

Steiner's autobiography, "A Point of View," was published in 1978. Among exhibitions of his work were a one-man show in 1949 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and exhibitions in 1981 at the Milwaukee Art Center (with Walker Evans) and at the Northlight Gallery in Tempe, Arizona (with Wright Morris).

Selected Publications:
"A Point of View," Wesleyan University Press, Middleton, CT, 1978
"In Pursuit of Clouds - Images and Metaphors - Photography by Ralph Steiner," introduction by Willard Van Dyke, University of New Mexico Press, 1985

Monday, March 21, 2011

Laura Gilpin

"Door Ranchos de Taos Church," 1947

"Mrs. Francis Nakai and Son," 1932

"The Rio Grande Yields its Surplus to the Sea," 1948

"Navaho Portrait (Ethel Kellywood)," 1934

Laura Gilpin Biography from the Encyclopedia of World Biography on

Laura Gilpin (1891-1979) was an American photographer best known for her southwestern landscapes and for her photographic studies of the Pueblo and Navajo Indians.

Laura Gilpin was born in Austin Bluffs, Colorado, on April 22, 1891. Although she briefly attended eastern boarding schools, she grew up in Colorado Springs and always thought of herself as a westerner. Even as a child she enjoyed exploring the mountains around her home. In 1903 Gilpin got a Brownie camera, which she used the following year to photograph the St. Louis World's Fair, and about 1909 she began experimenting with autochromes, a new color photographic process developed in France. Living on her family's ranch on the western slope of the Rockies from 1911 to 1915, Gilpin raised poultry and continued making pictures. By the time she went to New York in 1916 to study at the Clarence H. White School of Photography (with money saved from her poultry business) she was an accomplished amateur photographer.

Gilpin studied with White for two years, then returned home to Colorado to set up a commercial photography studio. While earning her living doing portraits and advertising work, she began exploring the Southwest and making pictures of the Pueblo Indians and the ruins of their Anasazi ancestors. These early, atmospheric pictures showed the influence of her training with White, a leading pictorial photographer who emphasized mood rather than detail in his photographs. Gilpin later moved away from this soft-focus approach and adopted a more straightforward, hard-edged style for photographing the Southwest.

Gilpin's long-term involvement with the Navajo began in 1930 when she ran out of gas on their reservation while on a camping trip with her companion Elizabeth Forster.

Deeply impressed by the Navajo people who came to their aid, Forster became a field nurse on the reservation. She lived in Red Rock, Arizona, for two years. Gilpin later became a frequent visitor to the reservation and, through the contacts made by her friend, began to photograph the Navajo people. Her pictures of families, trading posts, hogans, and ceremonies form a compassionate record of traditional Navajo life.

After Forster lost her job in 1933 financial difficulties and a number of photographic projects kept Gilpin away from the reservation for 16 years. In 1941 she published her first major book, The Pueblos: A Camera Chronicle, based on a series of lantern slides she had made of archaeological sites. During World War II (1942-1944) she worked as a public relations photographer for the Boeing Company in Wichita, Kansas, and then moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she resumed making photographic books. "Temples in Yucatan: A Camera Chronicle of Chichen Itza" appeared in 1948 and "The Rio Grande: River of Destiny," her monumental study of the Rio Grande and the people along its banks, came out the following year.

In 1950 Gilpin returned to the Navajo reservation to gather more pictures for a book. Although she initially thought it would be a quick and easy job, her work on the project took 18 years. She travelled all over the reservation, as she could spare time away from her commercial business, gathering information and pictures that would help her tell the story of the Navajo peoples' adaptation to modern American life. Eventually, she came to realize the great importance of traditional beliefs to the Navajo people, and her project began to focus on how traditions could be maintained in a rapidly changing world. "The Enduring Navaho," which finally appeared in 1968, was widely hailed by anthropologists and by the Navajo people themselves as a truthful and compassionate record of Navajo life.

During the 1970s, Gilpin regained much of the recognition in national photographic circles that she had enjoyed in the 1920s. She was at work on a photographic book about the Canyon de Chelly and its Navajo inhabitants when she died in Santa Fe on November 30, 1979.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Weegee (Arthur Fellig)

"My name is Weegee. I’m the world’s greatest photographer. . ."

"When you find yourself beginning to feel a bond between yourself and the people you photograph, when you laugh and cry with their laughter and tears, you will know you are on the right track."

"To me, pictures are like blintzes – ya gotta get ‘em while they’re hot."

"Simply Add Water"

"Easter Sunday in Harlem"

"U.S. Hotel"

"The Critic/The Fashionable People"

Weegee Biography from The Chrysler Museum of Art:

He captured tenement infernos, car crashes, and gangland executions. He found washed-up lounge singers and teenage murder suspects in paddy wagons and photographed them at their most vulnerable — or, as he put it, their most human. He caught couples kissing on their beach blankets on Coney Island and the late-night voyeurs on lifeguard stands watching them. And everywhere he went, he snatched images of people sleeping: drunks on park benches, whole families on Lower East Side fire escapes, men and women snoring in movie theaters. He was the supreme chronicler of the city at night. He was the only shutterbug that would make it to a murder scene before the cops. Weegee loved New York and New York eventually loved Weegee.

Weegee was born June 12, 1899, in Austria, under the name Usher Fellig. Shortly after he was born his father left for America, where he was a Rabbi while saving enough money to send for the rest of his family. At the age of ten, Weegee with his mother and three brothers, finally arrived to America. At Ellis Island, Weegee's name was changed from Usher to Arthur. (Aperture 5-9)

Early Life:

As far as education, Weegee made it through the eighth grade. However, the family needed money and Weegee was needed to help work. He worked a lot of odd jobs: he helped his father with a push cart business, he even worked at a candy store for a while. It was when he had his picture taken by a street tintype photographer that he decided that this was what he was meant to do. Weegee often said that he was, "A natural-born photographer, with hypo in my blood." He quickly ordered a tintype outfit from a Chicago mail-order house, and after a few months he got his first job as a commercial photographer. After a few years he left the studio, due to a disagreement on what he should be paid. He then bought a second-hand 5x7 view camera and rented a pony from a local stable. He named the pony "Hypo," and on the weekends when the kids were in their best clothes, he would walk around town putting kids on his pony and taking their picture. He would then develop the negatives, make prints, and go back to the families of the kids to try to sell them the photos.

Acme Newspictures:

At the age of twenty-four, Weegee got his big break working for Acme Newspictures. Acme was the source for stock photos for their own paper and other papers around the country. Weegee started off working in the darkroom, developing other photographers' work for the paper. Occasionally, when all the other Acme photographers were busy or sleeping, he would get to go out at night and take pictures of emergencies. After a few years of working for Acme, Weegee started to get called to do assignments and cover stories. This was what he always wanted; the only problem was that he worked for Acme, and thus, he never got credit for the photos he turned in. In 1935 he got tired of doing other peoples' work and left Acme to go out and try to free-lance his own work. The girls around Acme gave him the name "Weegee" after the board game. They said he always seemed to know where to be when a story broke.

Free-lance Photographer:

Weegee worked on his own as a free-lance photographer for the next ten years. He started to work out of Manhattan Police Headquarters; he would arrive around midnight and check the Teletype machine to see if any stories had broke. After a few years he decided he didn't want to wait for the news to come over the Teletype. He bought himself a 1938 Chevy Coupe and a press card, and he was allowed to have a police radio in the car (the only press photographer ever allowed to have a police radio in their car). Weegee's car was his home away from home, his office on the road. In the trunk he kept everything he would need including a portable dark-room, extra cameras, flash bulbs, extra loaded holders, a typewriter, cigars, salami and a change of clothes. (Weegee by Weegee 52)

"I was no longer glued to the Teletype machine at police headquarters. I had my wings. I no longer had to wait for crime to come to me; I could go after it. The police radio was my life line. My camera... my life and my love... was my Aladdin's lamp." (Weegee by Weegee 52)

After ten years he published his first book, The Naked City, which was inspired by the city he loved. It was during these ten years that Weegee produced some of his most expressive and beautiful photos.

Photographic Training:

Weegee never had any formal photographic training. He never heard of Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, or even the Museum of Modern Art. The work Weegee did came strictly from his heart. None of his photos were planned; his 4x5 speed graphic camera was preset at f/16 @ 1/200 of a second, with a focal distance of ten feet. All of his photos were taken at this setting with a flash. What photographic training Weegee may have needed to be a great photographer, he learned as he worked for Acme, or he just taught himself. Style, texture, or even quality of the photography did not matter much to Weegee. He was more concerned with capturing a moment of time on film. He recorded history as it happened. He had only a split second to capture the emotions of an event as they unfolded. A good example of this is the photograph of the Mother and Daughter crying as they watch another daughter and young baby burning to death inside a tenement fire. All that Weegee could really say about this photograph was, "I cried when I took this picture."

In 1939, Weegee took a portrait of a mother and her son in Harlem. Even a photograph that Weegee would consider to be a portrait showed an incredible amount of emotion. With a snap of the shutter he told the story of this poor woman. The way he positioned her and her son behind the broken glass is representative of the shattered life she lived. Yet even with despair all around her, she still has a look of hope in her eyes, as if she were saying that she cannot give up. She has a sense of pride as she holds her son. This is the power and gift that Weegee had with a camera.

It is impossible to look at a work by Weegee and not get emotionally involved. That was the whole point to his photographs — he wanted the viewer to get involved. On one of the first stories Weegee had to cover, he was asked to get photos of a kid that was abandoned by its mother. In his autobiography Weegee stated, "They (the cops) wanted pictures of the kid, so that the mother, seeing the picture in the papers, might become remorseful and come to claim the child." Weegee was ready to take a smiling picture when the nurse stopped him. The nurse stuck the baby with a pin, the kid started to cry and the nurse said "Now take a shot...This will bring the mother back." Luckily for the baby, this did bring the mother back. (Weegee by Weegee 56) Weegee had a job to do — this was the way he made a living. He had to make pictures that the newspapers would want to buy, and the newspapers wanted drama.

Being a free-lance photographer was not an easy job during this point in history. Not a lot of people could make it as long as Weegee had. Even when things were going bad, Weegee had good spirits about it. He was always able to find happiness in whatever he was doing. He loved people, he loved photographing people, and he loved being with people. In his work he confronted murder, brutality, children in need, brawls, the homeless, fires and victims. He also confronted people who were happy, lovers, celebrations and the end of the War. Weegee's work stands on its own — it's meant to be viewed one at a time, not as a group. With each shot, Weegee captured a truth that can never be recreated.

Weegee died of a brain tumor on December 26, 1968. Today Weegee is credited with ushering in the age of tabloid culture, while at the same time being revered for elevating the sordid side of human life to that of high art.


1. Weegee's People, Arthur Fellig, 1900-1968, DA CAPO PRESS, New York, 1975.
2. Naked City, Arthur Fellig, Essential Books, 1945.
3. Weegee, Aperture History of Photography Series, Aperture, Inc. 1978.
4. Weegee, Louis Stettner, Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher, New York, 1977.
5. Weegee, Andre Laude, Pantheon Books, New York, 1986.
6. Weegee by Weegee, An Autobiography, Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, New York, 1961.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Alan Ross

"Triangle Rock," (c) Alan Ross

"Fence and Farm Buildings," (c) Alan Ross

"Arches, Ming Tombs," (c) Alan Ross

"Corn Lilly," (c) Alan Ross

"White Fence and Tree," (c) Alan Ross

"Mosca House," (c) Alan Ross


Alan Ross has earned an international reputation as a specialist in the art of black-and-white photography – as an artist, educator and master printer.  He was Ansel Adams’ Photographic Assistant in Carmel from 1974 to 1979, and was integrally involved with Adams’ books, teaching in Yosemite, and production of fine prints.  He has been exclusive printer of Ansel Adams’ Special Edition negatives for over thirty-five years and over the span of that time has made over ninety thousand prints from Adams’ negatives.

He operated a commercial photography studio in San Francisco for twelve years with projects ranging from ads and world-wide campaigns for the Bank of America to landscape murals for the National Park Service.  He relocated to Santa Fe in 1993 to devote more of his energies to his personal work, teaching, and work for select clients, including Boeing, Nike, IBM, and MCI.

His photography hangs in collections and galleries throughout the country and internationally, and he has led workshops in locations from Yosemite to China.

In spite of his time spent with Ansel Adams and his ongoing involvement with Adams’ work, Alan considers himself something of a Zone System heretic.  It’s perfectly all right to make your own rules, and the Zone System is not the Zen System.  And neither are for everyone!

Alan regards himself as a classicist with regard to his photographic approach, but not a purist.  His work in the last twenty-five years has been mostly with an 8×10 view camera, but he has no philosophical objection to digital photography or “point-and-shoot” cameras.  He has one and likes it very much.  The 8×10 is getting bigger and heavier every day.

He used to object to being pigeonholed as a Landscape Photographer, when the truth was that he liked photographing all sorts of things.  Since his hair started to fall out he’s mellowed a bit and he doesn’t mind being called a Landscape Photographer because he still photographs whatever he wants – it’s just that he’s encountered a number of landscapes that needed photographing!

Galleries and Dealers:

Andrew Smith Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Thomas V. Meyer Fine Art, San Francisco; Ansel Adams Gallery, Yosemite ; Halsted Gallery, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; Gallery 798, Beijing, China


Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga TN; Exchange Bank, Chicago IL; Polaroid Corporation; Yale Museum of Art; K-Mart Corporation; Center for Creative Photography, Tucson AZ; AT&T; Western Electric Co.; Rochester Institute of Technology; Insulectro/Quintec Corp.; Seagate Technology; Bank of America; Pacific Telesis Corp.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; University of Michigan Museum of Art; Princeton University Art Museum, Kaiser Foundation; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Kalamazoo Museum of Art, and other public and private collections.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Brassai (Gyula Halasz)

"In the absence of a subject with which you are passionately involved, and without the excitement that drives you to grasp it and exhaust it, you may take some beautiful pictures, but not a photographic oeuvre."

"Obelisk and Fountains
in the Palace de la Concorde," 1933

"Oldest Police Station in Paris," 1933

"Notre Dame from Ile Saint-Louis," 1933

"When you meet the man you see at once that he is equipped with no ordinary eyes," comments writer Henry Miller on French photographer Brassai. And the sharpness of vision and depth of insight noted by Miller are revealed in Brassai’s lifelong photographic exploration of Paris—its people, places, and things.

Although Brassai was a leading member of the French "school" of photography, he was born Gyula Halasz in Brasso, Hungary. (He takes his pseudonym from his birthplace.) Originally Brassai had an aversion to photography. As a young man, he studied painting and sculpture in the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. Later he became a journalist, coming to Paris in 1918. There he fell in love with the city and with the camera.

Brassai sees Paris as a subject of infinite grandeur, his photographs providing a sensitive and often extremely dramatic exploration of its people, its resplendent avenues, and endlessly intriguing byways. Brassai’s reputation was established with the publication of his first book, Paris at Night, now a modern classic. Some of the pictures in this book are sharply defined, brilliantly lit, while others capture the mistiness of rainy nights. Still others concentrate on the shadowy life of the underworld.

As Brassai created more and more pictures of Parisian life, his fame became international. His pictures of "Graffiti" (writings and drawings scribbled by countless individuals on the crumbling walls of buildings) were the subject of his one - man show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Brassai has indicated something of his reason for making these pictures in the following statement: "the thing that is magnificent about photography is that it can produce images that incite emotion based on the subject matter alone."

Brassai has also had one-man shows in the Biblioth-Que Nationale in Paris, the George Eastman House in Rochester, and the Art Institute in Chicago. His work has been included in many international exhibits and published in many magazines. He was the last person to receive England’s P. H. Emerson Award, from Emerson himself. And it is interesting to note that Brassal has kept up his work in such other arts as drawing, poetry, and sculpture. Albums of his drawings and a volume of poetry, Les Pro pos de Marie, have been published, and recently he had a one-man show of 50 sculptures in Paris. Along with other great contemporary artists—Picasso, Moore, Calder, and Noguchi, Brassai had the rare honor of being asked to create a 23 X 10 foot mural for the UNESCO palace in Paris. Brassai has said many useful things about photography; one of the most valuable is the following statement: "We should try, without creasing to tear ourselves constantly by leaving our subjects and even photography itself from time to time, in order that we may come back to them with reawakened zest, with the virginal eye. That is the most precious thing we can possess".

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Alfred Stieglitz

"Equivalent," 1930

"Spring Showers, The Sweeper," 1902

"Georgia O'Keeffe," 1918

Untitled, Autochrome 

"Paul Strand," 1919

"The Steerage," 1907

Alfred Stieglitz, (born January 1, 1864, Hoboken, New Jersey, U.S.—died July 13, 1946, New York, New York), art dealer, publisher, advocate for the Modernist movement in the arts, and, arguably, the most important photographer of his time.

Stieglitz was the son of Edward Stieglitz, a German Jew who came to the United States in 1849 and went on to make a comfortable fortune in the clothing business. In 1871 the elder Stieglitz moved his family from Hoboken, New Jersey, to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Ten years later he sold his business in order to devote himself to the appreciation of the arts and to European travel.

In 1882 Alfred Stieglitz enrolled in Berlin’s Technische Hochschule to study engineering, but the subject apparently did not strike his fancy. He did, however, spend an undetermined amount of time studying with the great photochemist Hermann Vogel, and, during this same period, he committed himself to photography. It would seem that this commitment did not seriously interfere with his role as student prince, as he spent much of his time at the racetrack and in cafés, seeing operas by Wagner, and being entertained by young women of the less affluent classes. Nevertheless, by 1887 he was skilled enough to win both first and second prizes in the “Holiday Work” competition of the leading English journal Amateur Photographer.

In 1890, after eight years of footloose freedom, mostly in Germany, Stieglitz returned to the United States. He was convinced that photography should be considered a fine art—at least potentially the equal of painting and the traditional graphic arts—and he was accustomed to getting his way. He quickly became a leader of photography’s fine-art movement in the United States (part of an international phenomenon). In 1892 he became editor of Camera Notes, the publication of the Camera Club of New York, a position that allowed him to advance the photographers and policies he favoured. By 1902, however, resentment in the club had reached a point where Stieglitz was forced to resign. He was ready to move on and already had plans for his own organization and journal.

Early in 1902 Stieglitz announced the existence of a new organization called the Photo-Secession, a group dedicated to promoting photography as an art form. The name of the group suggested that it was designed to break away from stodgy and conventional ideas. In fact, all the Photo-Secessionist photographers were committed in greater or lesser degrees to what was called the Pictorialist style, meaning they favoured traditional genre subjects that had been sanctified by generations of conventional painters and techniques that tended to hide the intrinsic factuality of photography behind a softening mist. Members of the group were elected by Stieglitz, and eventually its roll included 17 fellows and almost twice as many associates. Founding members included Gertrude Käsebier, Edward Steichen, Clarence H. White, and Joseph Keiley.

It is difficult to describe the character of Stieglitz’s photography from this period without first identifying which selection of early work one is considering. As an active and talented publicist and publisher, Stieglitz was able regularly to revise his own early artistic achievement and to emphasize early work that in retrospect seemed more interesting than it had when new. For example, the negative for Paula was made in 1889, but the first confirmed exhibition of a print of it was in 1921, and the oldest extant print is dated 1916. If judged from the work that Stieglitz chose to reproduce while editor of Camera Notes, or from the 15 pictures selected by Stieglitz’s frequent collaborator Charles H. Caffin in his important 1901 book Photography as Fine Art, much of Stieglitz’s early work was sentimental, conventional, or both. Little of it compares in vitality—even within the narrow Pictorialist aesthetic—with the contemporary work of Käsebier, Steichen, or White. The exceptions in Stieglitz’s early work—those pictures that seem to respond to the photographer’s own life and place, such as Winter, Fifth Avenue or The Terminal (both 1892)—are almost always answers to difficult technical problems, which Stieglitz loved, and which often trumped his impulses to make photographs that were artistically correct.

To promote his goals (and, presumably, the goals of the Photo-Secession), Stieglitz introduced a quarterly publication called Camera Work; its first issue appeared in January 1903, and a total of 50 issues would be produced before it ceased publication in 1917. The magazine would largely define the artistic ambitions of amateur photographers in the first quarter of the 20th century. The quality of Camera Work’s production was extraordinary, and many of its gravure reproductions—often made directly from a photographer’s negative—are still valued by collectors. (When Stieglitz had returned to the United States in 1890, his father bought him an interest in the Heliochrome Company, a firm working in the then new technology of photoengraving. The business was a failure, perhaps because of Stieglitz’s antibusiness postures, but it is possible that he learned something about the craft of printing that served him well in his subsequent work as a publisher.)

Late in 1905, with the encouragement of his young protégé Steichen, Stieglitz opened the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, a name soon shortened to 291, the gallery’s address on lower Fifth Avenue in New York City. During the gallery’s first four years it most often functioned as an exhibition space for the Photo-Secession photographers. By the 1909 season, however, the gallery began to promote progressive art in a variety of media, and the work of painters, sculptors, and printmakers almost usurped the gallery space. These exhibitions (many of them arranged by Steichen) included the first shows in the United States of the work of Henri Matisse, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Cézanne, and Pablo Picasso.

As a result of his varied activities, Stieglitz’s reputation in the art world grew quickly, and in 1910 the Albright Gallery of Buffalo, New York, a highly respected institution, offered him its entire gallery space to do an exhibition on the art of photography as he understood it. The exhibition contained about 600 photographs, including 27 by Frank Eugene and 16 by Anne Brigman, but not one by Carleton Watkins, William Henry Jackson, Edward Curtis, nor by Stieglitz’s fellow New Yorkers Jacob A. Riis and Lewis Wickes Hine—all of them alive, and none unknown. Stieglitz told friends that the Buffalo exhibition was the realization of his dream of a quarter century: “The full recognition of photography by an important art museum!” The exhibition was a political triumph, but not an artistic one, as it represented only a very limited conception— Stieglitz’s own—of what photography’s creative potential might be. In fact, the exhibit revealed that, while claiming to be progressive, the Photo-Secessionist ideals had in some ways become both authoritarian and deeply conservative, ignoring work that pursued anything other than an attenuated aestheticism.

After the Buffalo exhibition, Stieglitz made few photographs for five years. When he returned to creating his own photographs in 1915, his work seems to have become washed clean of the old artistic postures and darkroom manipulations and dedicated instead to the clear observation of fact. The change was perhaps due in part to his recognition that—for the most part—the work in the Buffalo exhibition represented a dead end and would lead only to progressively weaker repetition. In addition, it is impossible to believe that a person of Stieglitz’s artistic intelligence would not be changed by exposure to the work of Rodin, Matisse, Brancusi, Picasso, and Braque, which he had shown at 291 between 1908 and 1914. But perhaps the most direct cause of Stieglitz’s artistic renewal was seeing the first mature work of Paul Strand, which Stieglitz featured in 1917 in the final (double) issue of Camera Work. Stieglitz had always been quick to learn from his protégés, and he was unquestionably challenged by Strand’s work, which he characterized as “brutally direct, pure and devoid of trickery.”

Nevertheless, it must be said that part of what was new in Stieglitz’s work transcended Strand’s youthful bravura inventions and revealed (finally) the values of an adult artist. The first of the new pictures were portraits of the artists who were close to Stieglitz—Francis Picabia, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley—and they make his earlier portraits seem, in comparison, to be of characters out of fiction. In 1916 he created an astonishing series depicting Ellen Koeniger in her bathing suit—perhaps the most joyfully sexual pictures that photography has produced.

Stieglitz’s new views were incompatible with those of most amateur photographers, the core of Camera Work’s pool of subscribers, who tended to regard photography as a means not of exploring the world but of hiding from it. When Camera Work began it had about 650 paying subscribers; by the time it stopped being published in 1917 it had about 36. Many of its original subscribers were doubtless disaffected by the magazine’s apparent abandonment (parallel to Stieglitz’s own preferences) of Pictorialist photography in favour of avant-garde painting. With the outbreak of World War I, others were repelled by Stieglitz’s pro-German sentiments. In a larger sense, Camera Work may have died because Stieglitz had lost interest in the aims—promoting photography as a fine art along the lines of painting—that it was founded to advance. People closely associated with Stieglitz became alienated by his arrogance and manipulative strategies: one by one the most important of the Photo-Secession members—Käsebier, Steichen, White—all eventually broke with him, and by 1917 the 291 gallery closed.

Free at last of the duties of publisher, editor, and (for awhile) gallery proprietor, Stieglitz began, in his early 50s, the most original and productive period of his life as an artist. During the following 20 years, he produced the work that defines his stature as a modern artist. In 1917 he met the painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who would quickly become his lover and finally (in 1924) his wife, after Stieglitz gained a divorce from his first wife, the former Emmeline Obermeyer. His serial portrait of O’Keeffe, made over a period of 20 years, contains more than 300 individual pictures and remains unique and compelling in its ability to capture many facets of a single subject. Until he stopped photographing in
1937, Stieglitz also created series depicting the changing skyline of New York, cloud formations (“equivalents”), and the surroundings of his summer home at Lake George, New York. These later works remain remarkably vital and continue to inspire and challenge photographers and artists in other fields.

Stieglitz also continued his efforts to support and exhibit Modernist art. After closing 291, he opened two additional galleries: the Intimate Gallery, from 1925 to 1929, and An American Place, from 1929 until his death in 1946. These small galleries were dedicated almost exclusively to the exhibition of the American Modernist artists in whom Stieglitz believed most deeply: Demuth, Arthur G. Dove, Hartley, John Marin, and O’Keeffe. (To a lesser extent, he also showed the work of American photographers. In 1936 he showed the work of Ansel Adams, the first new photographer whom he had shown since Strand 20 years earlier. Two years later he showed the work of Eliot Porter.) Through such efforts Stieglitz helped increase the public’s respect for American art.

Alfred Stieglitz’s contributions to the cultural life of his country were thus many and protean, but the judgment made by Steichen in 1963 seems just: “Stieglitz’s greatest legacy to the world is his photographs, and the greatest of these are the things he began doing toward the end of the 291 days.”

Friday, March 4, 2011

Milton Rogovin

Untitled, Early Mexico Series, 1953-1961 (photo ID:  Early_Mexico_008)
Photograph (c) Milton Rogovin, 1952-2002
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography,
University of Arizona Foundation

Untitled, Store Front Church, 1958-1961 (photo ID:  sfc_005)
Photograph (c) Milton Rogovin, 1952-2002
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography,
University of Arizona Foundation

Untitled, Lower West Side Revisited, 1984-1986 (photo ID:  LWS_rev_262)
Photograph (c) Milton Rogovin, 1952-2002
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography,
University of Arizona Foundation

Untitled, Appalachia, 1962-1987 (photo ID:  Appalachia_064)
Photograph (c) Milton Rogovin, 1952-2002
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography,
University of Arizona Foundation

Milton Rogovin Obituary by Benjamin Genocchio, New York Times, January 18, 2011:

Milton Rogovin, an optometrist and persecuted leftist who took up photography as a way to champion the underprivileged and went on to become one of America’s most dedicated social documentarians, died on Tuesday at his home in Buffalo. He was 101.

He died of natural causes, his son, Mark Rogovin, said.

Mr. Rogovin chronicled the lives of the urban poor and working classes in Buffalo, Appalachia and elsewhere for more than 50 years. His direct photographic style in stark black and white evokes the socially minded work that Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks produced for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression. Today his entire archive resides in the Library of Congress.

Mr. Rogovin (pronounced ruh-GO-vin) came to wide notice in 1962 after documenting storefront church services on Buffalo’s poor and predominantly African-American East Side. The images were published in Aperture magazine with an introduction by W. E. B. Du Bois, who described them as “astonishingly human and appealing."

He went on to photograph Buffalo’s impoverished Lower West Side and American Indians on reservations in the Buffalo area. He traveled to West Virginia and Kentucky to photograph miners, returning to Appalachia each summer with his wife, Anne Rogovin, into the early 1970s. In the ’60s he went to Chile at the invitation of the poet Pablo Neruda to photograph the landscape and the people. The two collaborated on a book, “Windows That Open Inward: Images of Chile.”

In a 1976 review of a Rogovin show of photographs from Buffalo at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, the critic Hilton Kramer wrote of Mr. Rogovin in The New York Times: “He sees something else in the life of this neighborhood — ordinary pleasures and pastimes, relaxation, warmth of feeling and the fundamentals of social connection. He takes his pictures from the inside, so to speak, concentrating on family life, neighborhood business, celebrations, romance, recreation and the particulars of individuals’ existence.”

Milton Rogovin was born on Dec. 30, 1909, in Brooklyn, the third of three sons of Jewish immigrant parents from Lithuania. His parents, Jacob Rogovin and the former Dora Shainhouse, operated a dry goods business, first in Manhattan on Park Avenue near 112th Street and later in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. After attending Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, the young Mr. Rogovin graduated from Columbia University in 1931 with a degree in optometry; four months later, after the family had lost the store and its home to bankruptcy during the Depression, his father died of a heart attack.

Working as an optometrist in Manhattan, Mr. Rogovin became increasingly distressed at the plight of the poor and unemployed — “the forgotten ones,” he called them — and increasingly involved in leftist political causes.

“I was a product of the Great Depression, and what I saw and experienced myself made me politically active,” he said in a 1994 interview with The New York Times.

He began attending classes sponsored by the Communist Party-run New York Workers School, began to read the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker and was introduced to the social-documentary photographs of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine.

Mr. Rogovin moved to Buffalo in 1938 and opened his own optometric office on Chippewa Street the next year, providing service to union workers. In 1942 he married Anne Snetsky before volunteering for the Army and serving for three years in England, where he worked as an optometrist. Also in 1942, he bought a camera.

Returning to Buffalo after the war (his brother Sam, also an optometrist, managed the practice in his absence), Mr. Rogovin joined the local chapter of the Optical Workers Union and served as librarian for the Buffalo branch of the Communist Party.

In 1957, with cold war anti-Communism rife in the United States, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee but refused to testify. Soon afterward, The Buffalo Evening News labeled him “Buffalo’s Number One Red,” and he and his family were ostracized. With his business all but ruined by the publicity, he began to fill time by taking pictures, focusing on Buffalo’s poor and dispossessed in the neighborhood around his practice while living on his wife’s salary as a teacher and being mentored by the photographer Minor White.

His wife, a special education teacher, was a collaborator throughout his career and helped him organize his photographs until her death, in 2003.

Mr. Rogovin’s photographs were typically naturalistic portraits of people he met on the street. “The first six months were very difficult,” he recalled in a 2003 interview, “because they thought I was from the police department or the F.B.I.”

But he gradually built trust, giving away prints of portraits in exchange for sittings. He never told his subjects what to do, allowing them to pose in settings and clothing of their own choosing.

“These aren’t cool sociological renderings but intensely personal evocations of a world whose faces are often missing in a culture that celebrates the beautiful and the powerful,” Julie Salamon wrote in The Times in 2003 on the occasion of a Rogovin exhibition at the New-York Historical Society.

Mr. Rogovin began his Storefront Church series in 1961 at the invitation of a friend, William Tallmadge, a professor of music at State University College at Buffalo who was making recordings at a black church on the city’s East Side. The success of the series encouraged Mr. Rogovin to devote more and more time to photography and persuaded him that photography could be an instrument of social change.

In 1972 he earned a Master of Arts in American studies from the University at Buffalo, where he taught documentary photography from 1972 to 1974. The next year he held his first major exhibition, at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.

In the next years his photographs were published in several books and widely exhibited; a show of his work is currently on view at the Gage Gallery in Chicago. Many are in the collections of museums, including the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Library of Congress acquired his archive in 1999.

In addition to his son, of Forest Park, Ill., Mr. Rogovin is survived by two daughters, Ellen Rogovin Hart of Melrose Park, Pa., and Paula Rogovin of Teaneck, N.J.; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

In his later years, as his health declined, Mr. Rogovin used a wheelchair and no longer took photographs. In 2009 he was nominated for a National Medal of Arts but was not selected.
His activism, however, was undimmed — he attended political rallies and antiwar protests into his final years — and his social conscience remained acute.

“All my life I’ve focused on the poor,” he said in 2003. “The rich ones have their own photographers.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 20, 2011

Because of an editing error, an obituary on Wednesday about the photographer Milton Rogovin misidentified the academic affiliation of William Tallmadge, who invited Mr. Rogovin to begin his Storefront Church series of photographs. Mr. Tallmadge taught at the State University College at Buffalo (now Buffalo State College, State University of New York), not at the State University of New York at Buffalo.