Masters of the 20th century, photographer of the week: Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz photography
One of my favorite 20th Century photographers, great work, and stunning images.
Absolutely ADORE Stieglitz.
I’ve long wondered about that first of the three pictures you’ve posted of O’Keeffe. I can’t figure out whether she was half asleep, or whether her expression conveys anxiety, or whether I’m missing the true meaning. What’s your take?
My personal reaction to the portraits of O’Keeffe are, as you mention, anything but straight forward – I find Stieglitz’s photographs of O’Keeffe quite (brilliantly) allegorical.
Take the second photo featured here for example: the clear background, combined with the light-coloured, almost plain robe tells me her expression here is the focus, the point if you like, of the image.
Her hair falls naturally onto her shoulders; no rules of socially expected attire apply here; this is not a portrait taken in a studio where the sitter has bought a new dress and had their hair perfectly composed by ‘help’; this is a hint to not take her seemingly half-stare too seriously. We immediately know this is no traditional portrait – it makes me want to delve deeper.
The fact she is not entirely covered – her neck and neckline are quite obviously displayed – suggests to me her emotional outlook, the half-stare captured, is also revealing something personal about herself, as well as something of the comfortable relationship between the photographer and herself.
I also see her indifference to the camera itself; her gaze falls elsewhere (her attention focuses on Stieglitz) – with her hands clasping her robe, almost nurturing, just below the area of her heart. I sometimes see a more questioning gaze, yet I also see resolution. I see strength, also fragility. Quite an thing to capture, really, with elements of innate juxtaposition. It seems a tender moment at which she shares this strange, mutable expression.
I hope that answers your question Steve; with this in mind, I’m interested if you see anything further in this portrait in particular, or if my reading affects yours at all?
It was probably the fact that she was in a robe, had her hair down, and looked sleepy that made me think she had recently awakened. I hadn’t thought about the indifference that you mention, nor the questioning and the resolution. My wife looked at the picture and saw sadness in the expression.
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