Middlebury College Museum of Art

Camera Work: Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, and Company

September 4–October 28, 2012

This exhibition—which highlights three luminaries of American photography: Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand, along with lesser-known artists in their circle—was organized for the museum by Charles A. Dana Professor of History of Art and Architecture Kirsten Hoving and students in her 2011 course “Camera Work: Alfred Stieglitz and Photography.”With more than twenty photogravures, the installation also includes issues of  the pioneering journal Camera Work, which was published by Stieglitz between 1903 and 1917. Ultimately featuring articles on the revolutionary new art of European masters Rodin, Picasso, and Matisse, the publication was originally inaugurated by Stieglitz to demonstrate that photography was indeed a fine art, a goal it achieved through the reproduction of images by the most significant photographers of the day.

Alfred Stieglitz, The Hand of Man
Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946), The Hand of Man from Camera Work I, c. 1903, photogravure on paper, 6 1/8 x 8 3/8 inches. Collection of Middlebury College Museum of Art, purchase with funds provided by the Fine Arts Acquisition Fund, 2004.045

Responding to the emergence of haphazard snapshots created by vast numbers of amateur photographers using Kodak box cameras, Camera Work set a standard for photography as an art form by featuring portfolios of exquisitely printed photogravures. Each image was produced under the supervision of Stieglitz—or by the artist himself—by etching the photograph onto a copper plate, which was then inked and run through a printing press. While complete issues of the magazine are still in existence—and some libraries possess full sets of the publication—many more of them have been dismantled, with individual images appearing as unique prints for sale at auctions and online.

Flatiron - Evening, by Edward Steichen
Edward Jean Steichen (American, b. Luxembourg, 1879–1973), The Flatiron—Evening from Camera Work XIV, 1904, published 1906 tritone on paper, 8 3/8 x 6 5/16 inches. Purchase with funds provided by the Walter Cerf Art Fund, 2008.026 (Photo: Tad Merrick)

The photogravure process lent itself especially well to work in the pictorialist style popular at the turn of the century. Characterized by soft focus, delicate contrast, and distinctive painterly qualities, the images by Steichen and Stieglitz himself, among other artists in their circle, compare favorably with the style and sensibility of American painting of the same period. Thus were the photographers able to establish their images as works of art in their own right.

As European modernism came to the United States after the first decade of the century, Stieglitz turned his attention to newer styles of art. After the pictorialists, the final issues of Camera Work contained images by Paul Strand that demonstrated a brutally direct, unmanipulated or “straight” style of photography. These show the transition to a new style of vision, while yet maintaining the high standard of photogravure reproduction that the magazine had promoted.

Interested in bringing a group to see Camera Work? Click here to schedule a self-guided tour of the exhibit.