Alfred Stieglitz - Photographs Evening Sale New York Wednesday, April 1, 2015 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Gifted to Dorothy Norman, New York
    Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
    Sotheby's, New York, 'Photographs from the Collection of Joseph and Laverne Schiezler', 10 October 2005, lot 19
    Camera Lucida, New York
    with Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York to the present Private Collection

  • Literature

    Camera Work, October 1911, Number 36
    Stieglitz, 291, September-October 1915
    Bulfinch Press, Alfred Stieglitz, pl. 18
    Green, A Critical History of American Photography, p. 195
    Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set, Volume One, cat. nos. 310-314
    Margolis, Alfred Stieglitz, Camera Work: A Pictorial Guide, p. 100
    Norman, Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer, pl. XVI
    Taschen, Photo Icons: The Story Behind the Pictures, Volume 1, p. 135
    The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Alfred Stieglitz: Photographer, pl. 8
    Whelan, Alfred Stieglitz: A Biography, Photography, Georgia O'Keeffe, and the Rise of the Avant-Garde in America, n.p.
    ArtForum, 'On the Invention of Photographic Meaning', January 1975, p. 36

  • Catalogue Essay

    Celebrated as a masterpiece of early modernism, no single image better represents the work of Alfred Stieglitz than The Steerage. While Stieglitz’s embraced the dialogue of light and atmosphere borrowed from late Impressionism, this image exemplifies his transition to a new approach that expressed the changes in urban life brought on by rapid modernization. The Steerage not only depicts human migration at a time of technological change, but as an icon of 20th century art it also encapsulates photography’s coming of age as a fully modern art form.

    Stieglitz, himself the son of German-Jewish immigrants who had found success and wealth in America, photographed the scene of a departing ship, and its prominent low-cost or steerage class, while on board for Europe with his wife and child. Edgy and dissatisfied with his upper-level surroundings, he wandered the ship, eventually happening upon this view, which he photographed with his only available negative and a hand-held camera. Marked by the formerly-repudiated lynchpins of photography: clarity, linearity and tonality, The Steerage is entirely modernist in its composition. Gone is the central focal point that typified most Pictorialist photographs, replaced with the strong diagonal line which slices through the frame, causing a jarring bifurcation of the scenes unfolding. In a 1942 text titled “How The Steerage Happened,” Stieglitz described the photograph as a move into vanguard abstraction, but also to the heart of his soaring feelings for freedom in art and life itself:

    "A round straw hat, the funnel leading out, the stairway leaning right, the white drawbridge with its railings made of circular chains – white suspenders crossing on the back of a man in the steerage below, round shapes of iron machinery, a mast cutting into the sky, making a triangular shape. I stood spellbound for a while, looking and looking. Could I photograph what I felt, looking and looking and still looking? I saw shapes related to each other. I saw a picture of shapes and underlying that the feeling I had about life..."

    When Stieglitz made this gelatin silver contact print in New York between 1924 and 1932, he had already experimented with many printings of the image. But while his early photogravures (first published in 1911 in Camera Work and later in a larger format as a special insert in 291), had a subtle tonal range, this print is remarkable for its high contrast, further demonstrating Steiglitz’s now fully realized transition into Modernism. Though rare in this format, other gelatin silver contact prints are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


The Steerage

Gelatin silver contact print, flush-mounted, printed circa 1924-1932.
4 3/8 x 3 5/8 in. (11.1 x 9.2 cm)

$180,000 - 220,000 

Sold for $197,000

Contact Specialist
Vanessa Kramer Hallett
Worldwide Head, Photographs

Shlomi Rabi
Head of Sale, New York

General Enquiries:
+1 212 940 1245

Photographs Evening Sale

New York 1 April 2015 6pm