The Stieglitz Group was an essential number of photographers who pioneered then promoted the pictorial style of photography. (Check out my article on pictorialism here!) Through the efforts of these photographers, photography was ultimately elevated and appreciated culturally to an art form. Through their new techniques and relentless quest to get their images viewed more often by the public, they were able to change the perception of photography as something one does for a personal album into something that also includes purchasing and displaying for art’s sake.
Edward Steichen is likely one of the most well-known names of those in the Stieglitz Group. Stieglitz was a big fan of his work and allowed Steichen to join his 291 Gallery in New York. He featured many of his photographs in “Camera Work” magazine. Steichen was prolific with the work he produced. Stieglitz offered popular venues for showing it to the world. Steichen quickly became one best-known known photographers of the movement. Steichen’s style was more avant-garde than the world had been used to seeing. He often employed alternative photo processing practices to help evoke emotion from his viewers. This reinforced the idea that photography is more than an image. It is an expressive statement.
Frank Eugene Smith
Frank Eugene Smith is another name some may have heard of before. Formerly a painter, Smith evolved into a photographer but kept some of his painterly ways. One of his most well known techniques was to use a needle to scratch the negative prior to printing. This introduced a painterly effect to his images and also set the stage for reinforcing yet again that photography is more than a straight image, can have manipulation beyond the actual picture taking, and still evoke an artistic effect.
Baron Adolf de Meyer
Baron Adolf de Meyer was also often published in Stieglitz’s “Camera Work.” His work was shown as well as in other galleries known for pictorial imagery. Meyer pioneered some of the pictorial practices. He utilized a specially constructed soft focus lens, off camera lights, and use of sun and light flares in his images to create his pictorial effects. At the start of World War I he left Europe for America. He began to do portraits of American celebrities in his style. Sadly, as the onset of the depression came, his work filled with scenes of opulence fell out of vogue and lost popularity.
Clarence Hudson White
Clarence Hudson White was another photographer in the group. He was a self-taught photographer when Stieglitz first noticed his work at the 1898 Philadelphia Salon exhibition. The two began collaborating on photography. White was known for using backlighting to help achieve his pictorial effects. He transitioned into teaching photography and the pictorial style at Columbia University in 1906 to countless fledgling photographers.
International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography
November of 1910 brought about an important exhibition in Buffalo, NY at the Albright Art Gallery (known today as the Albright-Knox). It was called the International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography. It was Stieglitz’s ultimate presentation of pictorialsm to the world. The owners of the museum, the Albrights, ended up purchasing 12 of the works for the museum’s permanent collection. This act reinforced the idea that photography was fine art and deserved all that comes with that classification; the high prices, the dealers, collectors, and reverent displaying of works. It solidified photographers as being on the same level as fine artists. It paved the way for photographers to make better livings with their artistic imagery.