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July 13: Alfred Stieglitz

Lawrence Bush
July 12, 2016
Stieglitz-WinterAlfred Stieglitz, who helped turn photography into an art form and helped introduce America to modern art, died at 82 on this date in 1946. Born to German Jewish immigrants to America, he spent his twenties in Germany, and it was there that he became enamored of the new technology of photography and began writing about it and winning photography prizes. He returned to New York in 1890 and shortly after bought his first hand-held camera (with which he shot “Winter, Fifth Avenue,” at left, in 1893). He also began to organize photography clubs, most notably The Camera Club of New York, of which he became president. The club published Camera Notes, one of a handful of magazines that Stieglitz used to establish his reputation as a photographer, art critic, and photography expert and tastemaker. In 1916, he fell in love with Georgia O’Keefe, for whom he left his wife, and whom he photographed obsessively for some seven years, producing 350 mounted prints of her. In 1924, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts acquired twenty-seven Stieglitz photographs — the first time a major museum included photos in its permanent collection. In 1949 and in 1980 O’Keefe donated a total of 1,642 out of Stieglitz’s 2,500 mounted photographs to the National Gallery in Washington. To see a medley of his work, look below. “I have always been a great believer in today. Most people live either in the past or in the future, so that they really never live at all. So many people are busy worrying about the future of art or society, they have no time to preserve what is. Utopia is in the moment. Not in some future time, some other place, but in the here and now, or else it is nowhere.” --Alfred Stieglitz

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.