NEW YORK — A new exhibition of photographs by Alfred Stieglitz offers a view of New York City at the turn of the 20th century through the eyes of one of the world's most celebrated photographers.
"Alfred Stieglitz New York" at the Seaport Museum New York features 39 vintage photographs, many shot from the windows of his midtown-Manhattan apartment and galleries. It opens on Wednesday and runs through Jan. 19, 2011.
It is the first time these works are being shown together since 1932 when Stieglitz showed them at An American Place, a gallery he operated from 1929 until his death in 1946, said the exhibition curator Bonnie Yochelson.
The photographs cover the periods from 1893 to 1916 and 1930 to 1935, contrasting Stieglitz's images of Old New York with later images of the city as it emerged as a great metropolis.
Stieglitz, whose second wife was the famous artist Georgia O'Keeffe, was a strong proponent of photography as an art form and founded the Photo-Secession group to promote photography "as a distinctive medium of individual expression."
His first gallery, "291," which he ran from 1905 to 1917, also introduced to the United States such European painters as Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse and Auguste Rodin.
Assembled from the collections of about a dozen major American museums and individuals, the Seaport Museum photographs include Stieglitz's iconic print of the Flatiron building near Madison Square Park. The soft focus, misty print was taken on a snowy night, and like many of his images, it has the quality of a painting.
Another print, "The Terminal," depicts another wintry scene of a horse-drawn omnibus on a slushy street in front of the old Post Office in the city's financial district.
The exhibition features three platinum prints, taken in 1915 from the back window of "291."
"My reading of these pictures is that they're in a certain way self-portraits, that he's always looking for ways to express his inner state of mind ... and when he settled on these window views – which were not of famous buildings like the Flatiron – that was really when he found his New York, his way of expressing the city," Yochelson said.
The three images show the same view – townhouses and commercial loft buildings – at different times of day and in different seasons.
Highlighting the museum's seaport theme, the exhibition features "The Ferry," a moody, dark picture of a ferry boat near Cortlandt Street in lower Manhattan, one of a series of harbor pictures, all taken by Stieglitz in 1910.
A separate gallery contains a small presentation of Stieglitz's lantern slides, the precursor of the old-fashioned slide carousel, that never have been shown before. The slides, scanned by the museum from originals, were used by members of the Camera Club of New York, of which Stieglitz was a member, to show each other their latest work.
"Stieglitz loved the medium, he thought it was beautiful to have these translucent projected images," Yochelson said.
The third and last gallery of the exhibition is called "The Face of New York." It contrasts Stieglitz's personal vision with a variety of material by other artists to show the wide variety of imagery of New York that was developing during his time.
"It's meant to give this sort of high temple of art feeling, which was Stieglitz's view of himself and his work, with the kind of hustle-bustle dynamic imagery and feeling of the city which was showing up by others," Yochelson said.