These influences began to come together in Stieglitz’s 1910 photographs of New York City. Although interest in New York as a pictorial and literary subject continued to grow throughout the 1900s, most artistic photographers, especially those associated with Stieglitz’s elite group, the Photo-Secession, were slow to adopt it.
Numerous publications have examined this subject: see, for example, H. Barbara Weinberg, Doreen Bolger, and David Park Curry, American Impressionism and Realism: The Painting of Modern American Life, 1885–1915 (New York, 1994), 134–245; Wanda M. Corn, “The New New York,” Art in America 61 (July–August 1973), 58–65; Wanda M. Corn, The Great American Thing (Berkeley, 1999), 153–176; Wanda M. Corn, “The Artist’s New York, 1900–1930,” in Thomas Bender and Carl E. Schorske, eds., Budapest and New York: Studies in Metropolitan Transformation, 1870–1930 (New York, 1994), 275–308; Patricia Hills, Turn of the Century America: Painting, Graphics, Photographs, 1890–1910 (New York, 1977); and Barbara Haskell, The American Century (New York, 1999).
The one exception is At City Hall, New York (Key Set number 302), which could have been made any time between 1904 and 1911, although not printed until the 1920s or 1930s.
Alvin Langdon Coburn, New York, foreword by H. G. Wells (New York, 1910). This portfolio was available in New York by August 1910 (see “Notes and Comments,” The Photo Miniature 10 [September 1910], 193–194).
Stieglitz was either given or purchased a copy of Coburn’s New York, which he subsequently gave to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (see Weston Naef, The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz: Fifty Pioneers of Modern Photography [New York, 1978], 510, no. 1295).
Stieglitz showed eight of his New York photographs at the large exhibition of the Photo-Secession and other pictorial photographs at Albright Art Gallery in the fall of 1910, but he only showed two of Coburn’s studies of the city, both of which were Whistlerian, nocturnal studies. Although Stieglitz frequently exhibited paintings, watercolors, and drawings of New York by other artists at 291, Joel Smith, “New York Modernism and the Cityscapes of Alfred Stieglitz, 1927–1937” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 2001), 58–59, correctly notes that in Camera Work Stieglitz “styled himself the only habitual maker of modern urban imagery.” He further notes that if one excludes the final issues of Camera Work with their portfolios of Paul Strand’s work, “in the entirety of Camera Work’s history, urban images by photographers other than Stieglitz total only 22, only eight of which depict New York City subjects. Of these eight, no single photographer contributed more than one except Paul Haviland, who is represented by three.” Of the forty-seven photographs by Stieglitz reproduced in Camera Work, nineteen are of New York City. Stieglitz reproduced two of Coburn’s studies of New York: “New York,” in Camera Work 21 (January 1908), plate ix, and “Broadway and the Singer Building by Night,” an advertisement for the portfolio New York in Camera Work 32 (October 1910), unpaginated.
More visually and conceptually complex than any of his earlier work had been, Stieglitz’s photographs drew on the dense patterning and compression of pictorial space used not only by Coburn, but also by the American modernist artists Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Arthur B. Carles, Alfred Maurer, John Marin, and Weber, all of whom he had exhibited in the spring of 1910.
Max Weber in an interview with Peter C. Bunnell, 8 September 1960, asserted that he suggested Stieglitz make photographs of New York in 1910. In addition, Weber claimed that he urged the photographer to use the title The City of Ambition for Key Set numbers 341–343; see Mike Weaver, Alvin Langdon Coburn: Symbolist Photographer, 1882–1962 (New York, 1986), 38, and 75, note 54. Weber may have been with Stieglitz when he made several of the photographs, for Stieglitz had arranged for the impoverished painter to give his daughter Kitty drawing lessons in Deal Beach, and the two artists often commuted into the city together. Stieglitz also identified Weber as the figure in Old and New New York, Key Set numbers 344–346 (see History of an American, Alfred Stieglitz: ‘291’ and After [exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art] [Philadelphia, 1944], 8).
Max Weber, “Foreword,” in Cézanne [exh. cat., The Montross Gallery] (New York, 1916).
These New York photographs, though, were not only exercises in form. Made along the waterfront and depicting the city from a distance, they impart a sense of passage, transition, and psychological separation. As in The City across the River or The City of Ambition, Stieglitz anchored his viewer on the opposite shore, removed from the new city (Key Set numbers 337 and 341). Even in Old and New New York, where a person in the middle ground surveys the scene, Stieglitz separated himself, and thus the viewer, from the spectacle by a sidewalk, curb, and hedge (Key Set numbers 344 and 345). We, like Stieglitz, witness from afar the construction of a new skyscraper in the background but are not part of the life of the street. Even the photogravure prints that Stieglitz made of these works between 1910 and 1913, while far less atmospheric than his views from the turn of the century, are nevertheless dark and heavy, further contributing to a sense of pause and reflection.
Having reasserted his command of the material, Stieglitz returned to the subject that preoccupied him during the years of 291: portraiture. Recognizing that much of the most innovative art of the period—from Rodin to Matisse and Picasso—was focused on the human form, he sought to clarify its implications for photography by examining this subject in his work. In the spring of 1910, at approximately the same time that the Mexican artist Marius de Zayas made a caricature of Marin, Stieglitz and Steichen together made a photograph of Marin in a similar setting (figs. 2 and 3).
As Wendy Wick Reaves notes in Celebrity Caricatures in America [exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution] (Washington, 1998), 78, just as Stieglitz was seeking to elevate photography, “to his eye, de Zayas was doing the same with caricature.” De Zayas’ second exhibition at 291 in 1910 of prominent New Yorkers strolling up and down Fifth Avenue was among the gallery’s most popular exhibitions and remained on view for more than six months. See Charles Brock, “Marius de Zayas: A Commerce of Ideas, 1909–1915,” in Sarah Greenough et al., Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries [exh. cat., National Gallery of Art] (Washington, 2001), 145–146.