Picks and Pans Review: Alfred Stieglitz
edited by Sarah Greenough and Juan Hamilton
Interest in the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, 37 years after his death, seems to be at an all-time high. In February the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. mounted an exhibit of 171 of his prints that will travel later this year to New York and Chicago. Stieglitz followers can now also turn to two absorbing books about the man many consider the father of American photography. To Lowe, the author of Stieglitz (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25.50), he was "Uncle Al." As a little girl summering with the Stieglitz clan at Lake George in New York State, she was instructed to scrub her hands before meals in full view of her germ-conscious great-uncle. Lowe, a playwright, has produced a biography full of revealing anecdotes about Alfred and his great love, artist Georgia O'Keeffe, whom he married in 1924. After Stieglitz's death from a stroke at 82 in 1946, for example, O'Keeffe worked late into the hot July night stitching plain white linen into the pine coffin to replace its "detestable" pink satin lining. Lowe's book frequently moves beyond the limits of cozy family history with telling passages about Stieglitz's professional life, including his battle to establish photography as an art form and his missionary work on behalf of such then avant-garde American artists as John Marin, Arthur Dove and, of course, O'Keeffe. Alfred Stieglitz (National Gallery of Art, $75; paper, $35) is not so much a memoir as it is an appreciation, a commanding photographic collection of great beauty and simplicity supported by excerpts from Stieglitz's own letters and writings. O'Keeffe, now 95, was consulted by National Gallery guest curator Sarah Greenough and O'Keeffe's assistant, Juan Hamilton, when they selected the pictures. O'Keeffe herself is also the subject of many of them—her hands, torso and breasts abstracted into many parts that upon reflection combine into a single powerful whole. Here, too, are many of Stieglitz's cloud studies, as fine as the English paintings of John Constable. Portraits of Stieglitz's other friends are striking as well. A picture of writer Waldo Frank shows him with the look of a strange, eager boy, wearing a felt hat, holding three half-eaten apples in his hands; two nibbled cores rest on the floor. The mystery of the photograph alone is the essence of Stieglitz—and of great art.
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