Posts Tagged ‘Modernist Photographer Alfred Stieglitz’

The steerage passengers immortalized in a 1907 landmark photo

February 14, 2022

In June 1907, photographer Alfred Stieglitz left New York for Europe with his wife and six-year-old daughter. His “small family,” as he wrote years later, had first-class accommodations on the liner Kaiser Wilhelm II and were headed toward Bremen, Germany.

But Stieglitz felt stifled by the atmosphere in first class. “One couldn’t escape the nouveaux riches,” he explained in his account, reproduced in the 2012 book, The Steerage and Alfred Stieglitz.

After three days he took a walk “as far forward on the deck as I could.” Looking down, he found a scene that left him spellbound: men, women, and children on the lower deck in steerage. These third-class passengers were biding their time by hanging laundry and playing on a staircase. Meanwhile, a man in a round straw hat watched the group amid the iron railings and machinery of the ship.

Stieglitz ran to get his camera. The resulting picture, “The Steerage,” wasn’t published until 1911. “I saw a picture of shapes and underlying that the feeling I had about life,” he said, per the Library of Congress (LOC) via Wikipedia.

Alfred Stieglitz in 1902, by Gertrude Kasebier

“The Steerage” has since become the most famous photo this pioneering photographer took, “proclaimed by the artist and illustrated in histories of the medium as his first ‘modernist’ photograph,” states, which owns a print of the photo. “It marks Stieglitz’s transition away from painterly prints of Symbolist subjects to a more straightforward depiction of quotidian life.”

The photo is also groundbreaking for viewers as well. It might be the first image offering a glimpse into what life was like in steerage class on an ocean liner. The people Stieglitz captured are headed back to Europe—possibly immigrants who were rejected at Ellis Island or “skilled craftsmen and their families heading home after working on temporary visas,” per the LOC.

[Images: Wikipedia]