Posts Tagged ‘Alfred Stieglitz’

An early photographer’s shadowy, soft-focus city

June 29, 2015

Born in 1886, Karl Struss distinguished himself as a cinematographer in early black and white movies, working with Cecil B. Demille and Charlie Chaplin, among others.

But before his film career took off, he worked as a commercial photographer in his native New York City. His moody, atmospheric images capture the lights and shadows of a horse-powered, low-rise city as it enters the modern, mechanized 20th century.

[West Street, 1911]

Strussweststreet1911

As a child, Struss became entranced by his brother’s wooden folding camera. He then learned his way around the darkroom and taught himself printmaking. Later he took classes at Columbia University with Clarence White, a member of the Photo-Secessionists, a group of artists who argued that photography wasn’t about merely recording an image but capturing something artistic and creative.

Through White he met Alfred Stieglitz, who invited Struss to exhibit his work in a 1911 show.

[Manhattan Bridge, 1910]

Strussmanhattanbridge1910

“Any portfolio of his work from 1909 until 1916 alternates Old World scenic and pastoral vistas with the harder-edged urban lines of New York City, especially its long, ominous night shadows and brilliant source lights,” states a profile of Struss on the American Society of Cinematographers website.

“For several years Struss had been working assiduously to promote himself as a commercial as well as an art photographer; his personal goal was to demonstrate that the two kinds of work were not incompatible.”

[Herald Square, 1911]

Strussheraldsquare1911

His print photography days were numbered. In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the Army but never left America because of rumors reportedly spread by his photography world colleagues that he was disloyal to his country.

[Mercedes Autobus, Fifth Avenue and 38th Street, New York, 1912]

Strussmercedesautobusfithand38thny1912

Struss1912clarencewhite“This ugly episode may have been the catalyst that led him to leave the chummy world of New York art photography for the freewheeling film scene in Hollywood,” states a New York Times article from 1995.

Struss remained in the movie industry, earning awards and working through the 1950s. He died in 1981, in time for his own resurgence as a leading photographer who helped elevate photographer to an art form—along with other pioneering picture-takers, like Paul Strand and the more abstract Langdon Coburn.

[Right: Karl Struss in 1912, by Clarence White

The modern metropolis of Georgia O’Keeffe

November 18, 2013

If Georgia O’Keeffe to you means gauzy flowers and southwestern motifs, take a look at her Modernist depictions of the cityscape in the 1920s.

[below, “East River From the 30th Story of the Shelton Hotel,” 1928]

Okeeffeastriverfromshelton

Born in Wisconsin in 1887, O’Keeffe studied at the Art Students League in 1907, then came back to New York a few years later to attend Teachers College.

 She returned once again in 1918 to live with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who had been impressed by her charcoal drawings and forged a relationship with her through letters.

[Below, “East River No 1,” 1927]

Okeeffeeastriverfromtheshelton1926

The two married six years later, after Stieglitz’s divorce was finalized. They lived together in the Shelton Hotel at 49th Street and Lexington Avenue, and from her window O’Keeffe began painting the New York skyline.

“Although O’Keeffe’s paintings of skyscrapers might appear simplistic, their power lies in the perspective O’Keeffe employs in her technique,” explains this link from the University of Virginia.

[Below, “New York Night,” 1928-1929]

Okeeffenewyorkatnight

“Her paintings often times used the vantage point of being on the ground and looking up which conveys a sense of wonder an individual might experience while craning one’s neck to look up at the awe-inspiring skyscraper.

Georgiaokeeffe“In contrast, O’Keeffe’s subtle use of light in New York Night conveys a sense of warmth and life inherent in the city.

“Although the majority of the painting is comprised of dark buildings, the lighted windows in the skyscrapers and the lighted street area in the lower left-hand corner of the painting are suggestive of the living beings who breathe life into the city on a daily basis.”

O’Keeffe also painted the Radiator Building in Bryant Park, all glowing embers.

[O’Keeffe in 1918, photo taken by Alfred Stieglitz]

Alfred Stieglitz’s “Old and New New York”

February 9, 2011

Stieglitz’s 1910 photo captures a moment on a changing Park Avenue South.

Park Avenue here is still lined with free-standing mansions and townhouses, yet the under-construction Vanderbilt Hotel looms in the distance between East 33rd and 34th Streets.

This photo and others of New York in the early part of the 20th century can be seen at the Met’s Stieglitz, Steichen, and Strand exhibit through April 10.