Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Steiglitz, Steichen, Strand" Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Alfred Steiglitz, The Terminal, 1893
The exhibition, "Steiglitz, Steichen, Strand", on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through April 10, 2011, presents the work of three pioneers of Modern photography at the turn of the 20th Century. While not a comprehensive survey of the innovations of these artists, the show does succeed in capturing the spirit and significance of their respective accomplishments. Alfred Steiglitz (1864-1946) was the charismatic elder statesman of the group, a photographer and art dealer who championed the acceptance of photography as an art form and introduced many emerging European painters to the United States through his galleries. Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was an early disciple of Steiglitz and a master craftsman who experimented with many methods to achieve his artistic vision, including early color processes. Both at first worked in the Pictorialist style, which attempted to gain legitimacy by obscuring photography's detail and sharpness through imitating the conventions of painting, softening the image with focus and printing techniques. Steiglitz, in part influenced by the European art he was showing, eventually grew tired of this fashion and sought a new and fresh approach. Enter the youngest member of this triumvirate, Paul Strand (1890-1976). On advice from Steiglitz, Strand went forward and created a body of work which exploited photography's hard edges and sharp focus into a new, purely photographic and modern statement. Strand was also a socially conscious artist (he had studied with Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture School), and he included more human content in his work. Steiglitz embraced this new style, showing Strand's work at his "291" Gallery and publishing it in the lush Camera Work journal. These collaborations and cross influences heralded the inception of Modern photography. For me, it is Strand who emerges from this exhibition as the foremost visionary. In the hindsight of a century passed, his pictures remain as timeless and relevant as any great work of art.
Edward Steichen, Rodin-The Thinker, 1902

Paul Strand, Blind, 1916

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