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1 REREADING ALFRED STIEGLITZS EQUIVALENTS By NICOLE E. SOUKUP A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2009
2 2009 Nicole E. Soukup
3 To my family
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank m y committeeDr. Eric Segal, Dr. Shepherd Steiner and Dr. Alex Alberrofor their guidance and insight as I deve loped my ideas. Molly Bloom at the National Gallery of Art, deserves special recognition fo r her assistance viewing a selection of the Equivalents series I am indebted to the librarians at the Cooper Hewitt Library, part of the Smithsonian Institute, New York City, and at th e University of Florida. My editorsAmy C. Rieke and Sheila Bishopmade sure my writing was clear and concise. I especially am grateful to my friends and family for their support and encouragement.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................4 ABSTRACT.....................................................................................................................................6 CHAP TER 1 REREADING ALFRED STIEGLITZS EQUIVA LENTS .......................................................8 Introduction................................................................................................................... ............8 The Equivalents........................................................................................................................9 Early Life and Landscape.......................................................................................................12 Portraits as a Formal Style.................................................................................................... ..16 Referencing Biography...........................................................................................................18 Experience and Transparency................................................................................................. 20 Music and a Visual Language.................................................................................................24 Machine and Symbol............................................................................................................. .27 Concerning the Spiritual in Art............................................................................................... 30 The Symbolic................................................................................................................... .......36 Gramatical Structures.......................................................................................................... ...37 2 CONCLUSION..................................................................................................................... ..43 LIST OF REFERENCES...............................................................................................................45 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.........................................................................................................50
6 Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts REREADING ALFRED STIEGLITZS EQUIVALENTS By Nicole E. Soukup May 2009 Chair: Eric Segal Major: Art History The Equivalents series by Alfred Stieglitz has been read from different perspectives. In this thesis I propose that the Equivalents series can be interpreted as an opposition to traditional tropes of the landscape, and should be understood as being mediated by Stieglitzs biography and personal experiences, through the st yle of portraiture and its rela tion to the landscape, film, and the leverage provided by his earlier series of photographic works. S tieglitzs own role as curator and his interpretation of straight photography shaped the formal st yling of the series. By taking into account these mediating forces and by consid ering the grammatical stru ctures of the images within the Equivalence series, the viewer can make numerous inroads into Stieglitzs logic of the symbol. Based on both a hermeneutical and grammatical reading, Stieglitzs l ogic of the symbol iterates a visual language and gives rise to a spec ific contextualization. It is necessary for the viewer to take into a ccount the grammatical and the hermeneu tical. While the subject matter of the photographs in Equivalents is secondary to the grammatical structuring of the series, it underpins or makes the structuring possible. The structure of the series and the fact that the photographs are filtered thr ough the photographers biograph y complicate the simplistic transcendental nature intended. The Equivalents stands in stark contra st to earlier and more
7 direct photographs by Stieglitz. Many interp retations have been given of Stieglitzs Equivalents, most of which are based on an aesthetic of the symbolic and symbolist theories of the sign. These interpretations revolve around the various theories of transcendence, synesthesia, correspondences, direct experiences, and other cultu ral productions during the same period as the Equivalents. By coalescing these similar ideas, inroad s are made into Stieglitzs later works, particularly the Equivalents. In this thesis, I will discuss Stieglitzs biogr aphy, American literary and cultural influences at the time and their relation to the Equivalents. I will then discuss the ideas of transcendence and spirituality in the Equivalents. Finally, I will discuss how the grammatical structures and materiality of the series and how this reflects Stieglitzs comp lex understanding of the sign, as I interpret it.
8 CHAPTER 1 REREADING ALFRED STIEGLITZS EQUIVA LENTS Introduction I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learne d in 40 years about photography. Through clouds to put down m y philosophy of lif eto show that my photographs were not due to subject matter.1 Alfred Stieglitz When Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) wrote, my photographs were not due to subject matter, he was not eliminating th e role of subject matter in his Equivalents series, 1923-1934, but negating it. The subject matter in the Equivalents series is secondary to the grammatical structuring, however an understand ing of it is necessary as the subject matter underpins or makes the grammatical structuring possibl e. The structure of the series and the fact that the subject matter and formal qualities are mediated through his biography complicat e the transcendental nature that many interpretations propose. These interpretations of Stieglitzs Equivalents series focus on an aesthetic of the symbolic or propose the Equivalents as a remediation of Symbolist theories of the sign. Previous interpreta tions revolve around the various theories of transcendence, synesthesia, correspondences, di rect experiences, or ot her cultural productions during the same period as the Equivalents. By coalescing these ideas and giving attention to the grammatical structures, inroads can be made in to Stieglitzs later works, particularly the Equivalents as this series represents a particular logic of the symbol. In this thesis, I will discuss Stieglitzs biographical, American literary and cultural influences at the time of pr oduction and their relation to the Equivalents. The events in 1 Alfred Stieglitz. How I Came to Photograph Clouds, Stieglitz on Photography: his Selected Essays and Note s, (New York: Aperture, 2000), 237
9 Stieglitzs life and the cultural circumst ances influenced the production of the Equivalents, especially in relation to portra iture and music. Through the influence of Romantic literary figures like Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Strand, and Marsden Hartely, Stieglitz formed his own logi c of the symbolic, which is evident in the Equivalents series. I will also discus s the grammatical structures and materiality of the series and how this reflects S tieglitzs logic of the sign, as I interpret it. The Equivalents The Equivalents series is a series of a pproxim ately 337 first generation silver gelatin prints on postcard stock paper. The primary subject ma tter of the series is clouds. The largest collection of the series is located at the National Gallery of Ar t (NGA) in Washington, D.C. Throughout his lifetime, Stieglitz edited, reprinted, and discarded many of the photographs in his portfolio.2 An ardent critic, especially of his own work, Stieglitz was constantly trying to perfect his portfolio by keeping it up to date with his current aesthetic tast es and reprinting his critically acclaimed works. Often times, he would undertake extreme purges of work s, particularly after severe periods in his life. Upon his death, Stieglitzs second wife, Georgia OKeeffe (18871986), gave the NGA 1642 of his 2500 photographs including the approximately 337 that belong to the Equivalents series, 1922-1934. Considered the Key Set, the 1642 photographs that OKeeffe donated to the NGA represent Stieglitzs progression as a photographer.3 The photographs included in the Key Se t represent a wide range of techniques and processes that 2 Sarah Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz | the Key Set, the Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Photographs. (Washington D.C.: National Gallery of Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002), XL. 3 The 1642 photographs by Stieglitz at the NGA are now known as the Key Set. The Key Set is the most comprehensive collection of Stieglitzs photographs, and the catalogue is the closest to an overall catalogue raisonne. The total number of Equivalents photographs varies, but the number is approximately 330, according to the NGA. Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz | the Key Set, XLII.
10 Stieglitz used over the course of his career. However, it is importa nt to bear in mind that this portfolio, the Key Set included, is a biased collection of photogra phs. It is a selection of photographs that OKeeffe and he chose to represent the photographic legacy of Stieglitz. Started in 1923, the Equivalents series is a continuation of the themes and styles established in two prior series MusicA Sequence of Ten Photographs 1922, and Songs of the Sky, 1922-23. Most of Stieglitzs la ter works are rooted in his pr inciple of equivalency. This principle of equivalency is a system of substitu tion and exchange on the level of the symbolic. Stieglitz based his principle of equivalency on the ideas of correspondences most prominently used by Kandinsky and other European artists of the beginning twentieth century. Stieglitzs principle of equivalency was very similar to the conception of music as a transcendental experience. Stieglitz strove for this direct interpretation, or tran scendent experience of emotions in his visual media. To achieve this he created a visual language that woul d be able to translate the symbolic moments in the work of art into universal human emotions. This principle is in both of the earlier works, particularly when the direct linkage to music is taken into consideration. Like his series, Georgia OKeeffe 1917-1937, the subject ma tter is limited, but by comparing it to the two earlier series, the viewer can gain further insight into the Equivalents series What separates the Equivalents series from other series by S tieglitz is its tight sense of subject matter, large number of photographs, and complex arrangement and ordering of the series. Sarah Greenough wrote, The ideas embodied in [Stieglitzs] early 1920s photographs, especially those of clouds, have little or nothing to do with Lake George specifically, and everything to do with Stieglitzs understandi ng of the nature and function of art and
11 photography.4 The nature and function of art, for Stieglitz, is inherently symbolic. Any referentiality, or allegorical nature within the work s is either not important, or is subsidiary to the symbol. This series also demonstrates how Stie glitz still pushed the bounda ries of the medium. While the intentions of the images are strikingly similar, the size and or ientation of the camera and photographs in the two earlier series varies slightly from Equivalents. The beginning of the Equivalents coincided with Stieglitz shif t to from an eight-inch by ten-inch camera to the use of a five-inch Graflex camera. The camera allowed hi m more flexibility to aim the camera skywards and capture shots of only the clouds or the tops of poplars a kind of subject matter that dominates the Equivalents series.5. Stieglitz is one of the firs t photographers to aim his camera towards the sky, and he is doing so with a view finder, not the compact 35mm camera that was coming into popular usage during this period. The Equivalents series is comprised of smaller groups based on exhibitions or sets of photographs arranged in an alphanumeric system Oftentimes, Stieglitz arranged photographs within multiple groups, sets, and even series, th us making their individual meaning arbitrary in relation to the placement. As Greenough states, His aim was not to distill the essence of clouds, but to transform them into an abstract language of form expressive of his subjective state.6 Stieglitzs deliberate arrangement of the photographs into sets, I would argue calls for a revision to Greenoughs statement. That the abstract la nguage created by Stieglit z needs to incorporate the physical photographs themselves. Stieglitzs understa nding of the grammati cal structuring of language is evident in his co mpiling and arranging of the Equivalents series. His arbitrary 4 Sarah Greenough Alfred Stieglitzs Photographs of Cl ouds. (Albuquerque: Univer sity of New Mexico, 1984), 1. Sarah Greenough is the chief curator of the photography department at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and is perhaps the leading expert on Alfred Stieglitz and his photography. 5 Ibid. 155. 6 Ibid 2.
12 repetition of photographs to create a rhythm or a universal emoti on within the va rious sets, like words in a sentence, points to a comple x understanding of language and sign. These photographs are to be transparent visual repres entations, or a visual language, of universal emotions, like visual equivale nts to music; however, Stieglit zs own biography and the physical format of the photograph me diate the transparency. Early Life and Landscape Stieglitz sta ted in regards to the Equivalents series I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in forty years a bout photography. Through clouds to put down my philosophy of lifeto show that my photogr aphs were not due to subject matter.7 In order to gain an understanding of that philosophy, there first n eeds to be an understa nding of Stieglitzs philosophy of life and his biography. Most of Stieglitzs work is inherently self-r eferential, as evidenced in his choices of subject matter. In a sense, Stieglitzs subject matter was his life. His biography can be selectively told through his phot ographs of his friends, family, and environs over the years. In terms of the Equivalents his biography shaped the nature or those particular universal emotions he was tryi ng to convey. I will begin with his life before the creation of Equivalents, in order to establish their original context. Stieglitz was born January 1, 1864 in Hoboken, Ne w Jersey. He spent repeated summers throughout his life at his fam ilys home on Lake George.8 Lake George was already an established locale within the literary and cultural life of America. This specific location is the site for numerous landscape and portrait photogra phs taken by Stieglitz from approximately 1900 7 Ibid. 8 Katherine Hoffman. Stieglitz: A Beginning Light. (New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004),10.
13 until the end of his career in 1935, an d is the only location for the Equivalents. With its scenic position in the Adirondacks, Lake George inspired such literary figures as James Fennimore Cooper, who took inspiration from scenic vi stas of the lake for his infamous novel, The Last of the Mohicans .9 Artists, politicians, and the upper-class soci ety of New York, such as Benjamin Franklin, Calvin Coolidge, and Theodore Roosevelt, had all flocked to the la ke as far back as the colonial era.10 Stieglitz took hundreds of photographs of Lake George and the landscape of the Adirondacks throughout his lifetime. Not only was Lake George the site of his summer home, it was also the site of his studio.11 Stieglitz shot most of his surviving portraits, the Georgia OKeeffe series, numerous landscap es and still-lifes, and the Equivalents series at Lake George. This has resonances within the American landscape tradition. The role Lake George has played in American history places the dialogue of these images squarely in an American tradition. Lake George was also a source of inspiration for th e Hudson River School and Luminist painters of the mid to late nineteenth century.12 Like Stieglitz, Romanticis m influenced the Hudson River Schools aesthetics. Both Luminists painters and the Hudson River School used the sublime within the landscape to capture an essence of God or transcendentalism. Lake George represented an opposition to the manmade and mechanized environm ent of New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. This manmade envi ronment and the machine itself were themes in Stieglitzs photographic corpus since the turn of the century, and were the driving theme of 9 Ibid., 12. 10 Ibid. 11 Stieglitz did rent darkrooms, but until 1929 he did not have his own studio in New York City. Consequently he did most of his photographic works at the Lake George studio. In 1929, with the financial assistance of the Strands, Stieglitz was able to purchase An American Place, which was large enough for a gallery and a studio. (Ibid). 12 Ibid.
14 American art and literature dur ing the early twentieth century.13 Artists and the literati interpreted the idea of the machine as the drivin g force of America, and the signifier of early American Modernism. In striking opposition to those landscape based photographs, stand the Equivalents. While the Equivalents embrace clouds, trees, and horizons, as their subjects, the subject matter is divorced from the physical location through thei r production. Thus, by working in opposition to an existing tropethe landscape of Lake GeorgeStieglitz was able to locate his series in relation to the established American art cannon. Th is is important because Stieglitzs goal was to establish an American art formone that was dis tinct from Europe. St ieglitzs ties to Lake George and its environs can also lead the viewer to allegoric al references of his biography. His biographers tell us that the artists fascin ation with clouds started as a child, yet it was not until 1923 that he pursued th e idea of photographing just clouds.14 From an early age, Stieglitz demonstrated an intere st in meteorological subjects as evidenced by his childhood diary and those canonical images from the turn of the century, such as Winter, Fifth Avenue 1893.15 It was in Europe that Stieglitz first star ted to photograph and study clouds and light.16 These earliest images were the formal basis for his Equivalents series, and other landscape photographs. The photographs that still survive are strikingly similar in styl e to photographs that would come later in his career.17 13 We can point to the machine in the works of Francis Pi cabia, Georgia OKeeffe, and th e Stieglitz circle. We can also garner this from works by Paul Strand and Charles Scheeler, where the developed landscapes, from agriculture to the city, were the focus of their works. 14 Greenough, Alfred Stieglitzs Photographs of Clouds. 152 15 Ibid. 16 Hoffman, Stieglitz: A Beginning Light 12. 17 Stieglitz would go on to destroy many of these early photographs. Of the very few that survive, most were reprinted years later. PaulaSun Rays and The Steerage are just a few examples of these reprints.
15 An example of Stieglitzs early landscape photography is On Lake Thun, Switzerland 1886. The dramatic capturing of the sun burst ing through the clouds, a nd the grandeur and magnitude of the light and clouds that frame the mountains sitti ng on the horizon, is reminiscent of nineteenth century landscape pa inters capturing of a sense of the sublimemore so than his later images. Stie glitzs cropping of On Lake Thun, Switzerland breaks the image into thirdsa trademark compositional strategy in his lands cape and street imageswith the mountains creating a horizon and thrusting skyw ards. In the image, it is as if the mountains are breaking the overcast clouds, as well as the hor izon of the lake, creating a sense of the sublime within the nature of the mountains and the contrasting calm of the light. Repeated in the sunlight is this sense of the sublime. The suns rays seem almost ethereal in their scal e and tonal range within the image. They transcend the image, bestow ing a sense of magic or religious encounter upon the quietness of the lake. The sublime elements that are present in the photograph with On Lake Thun, Switzerland are present in many of the photographs in the Equivalents series. The Equivalents from 1926, in particular images 1170 and 1171 from the Key Set, are very sublime images with the horizon all but blackened out, the rays of light bust out from behind the clouds. The sun highlights the edges of several of the clouds a nd completely consumes others in total white. Today the viewer would recognize a cinematic sense of the sublime present in these photographs. Todays viewer also can sense the religious kitch that this type of sublime imagery has taken ona transcendent moment with only the image of Jesus Christ la cking. The tonal range of the photographs, while predominately dark, is wide in scale. Again, like On Lake Thun, Switzerland, he sectioned the photographic frame of the clouds into thirds. Thes e images can find similar pairings within the later prints of Songs of the Skies, 1924 where the blackened hori zon forms a balancing to the
16 darkened clouds. Yet, the Equivalents, 1926 work in opposition to On Lake Thun, Switzerland. In On Lake Thun, Switzerland, Stieglitz has highlighted the ge ographic location by framing the image when the light hits the mountains and shore. By darkening the horizon, the specific site of the Equivalents from 1926 is hard to discern. Using contrast, Stieglitz has decontextualized these photographs. By choosing clouds as the subject matter of Equivalents Stieglitzs images are in an indirect dialogue with his earlier works and w ith the American cannon of landscapes. This is important because it validates his ideas of an e xplicitly American art tradition by using a purely American source of imagery, but it also shows that he is in a continuous dialogue with a longstanding artistic trope in the American art tradition. While Equivalents is not about clouds, there are particular connotations to his earlier work s and to the American artistic cannon that arise through his choice of imagery. Portraits as a Formal Style Another rep eated trope that is evident in the Equivalents series is the style of portraiture. As I will discuss later in this paper, Stieglitz began to s hoot clouds in response to a criticism made by Waldo Frank (1889-1967). Waldo Frank ... wrote that he believed the secret power in my photography was due to the power of hypnotism I had over my sitters.18 Dared by comments made by Frank, Stieglitz sought to ph otograph something that was beyond his ability to hypnotize. Yet, he continued many of the fo rmal features of his portraits. Through the adaptation of the portrait style, with this partic ular subject matter, Stieglitz put pressure on the portrait style in ways that othe r photographers had yet to do. This is most notable in his 18 Alfred Stieglitz. How I Came to Photograph Clouds, 235.
17 Equivalents from 1927 of poplar trees. The photographs from this period that are in the Key Set contain ten photographs of poplars printed in 1927. This grou ping of photographs twists and turns the placement of the poplar. Framed so that they dominate the image like many of his portrait sitters, Stieglitz personifi ed the poplars. They do not blend in with the sky, but the sky is the neutral background, which Stie glitz posed behind the poplars. The eventual blackening or darkening of the poplars is interesting to note. As if they are fading into blackness, like an eventual death. Only to be bathed fully in light by the end of the ten photographs. The previous staging of the photographs into se ts the viewer to read a narrative not necessa rily present in the photographs. That the viewer eventually begins to read the images in terms of rhythms and movement in the groupings e ither established by Stieglitz or later OKeeffe and those that the viewer creates. The viewer can find a precedent for the popl ars as personifications or symbolic representations of sitters in the set Portrait K.N.R., No.1-6 also known as Songs of the Sky C1-6 Stieglitz took this series of si x photographs as a portrait of his friend, Katharine N. Rhoades. In a 1924 New York Times review of the images, Songs of the Sky and Trees is a portrait of a friend of this artist, scientist, and philosopher, expresse d through sky and tree, a tree that dances and sparkles in the first plates becoming in the last print a thing of dignity and completeness.19 One can assume that traits of Rhoads that Stie glitz were trying to capture. Not only are they given close study against a neutral ground as disc ussed above, similar to many of his portraits they are taken from a lower angle. Thus, these intentional formal e ffects give his sitter a sense of dignity, and imposing dominance with in the fr ame. Here in the 1927 photographs of the poplars, it is the same grounding and positioning of form. Through these photographs, a person 19 Greenough, the Key Set 521 Originally excerpted from New York Times, 9 March, 1924 sect 8, 10.
18 is equivalent to a tree, all aut horized by his title and signature. The essen ce of the sitter is perhaps captured in that sense subject matter is an external veil which the symbolic must suffer, and at the same time, transcending the nature of the portrait style. Referencing Biography The Equivalents se ries is the result of two previous series dealing with the same subject matter. When framed within this progressionfrom MusicA Sequence of Ten Cloud Photographs 1922, to Songs of the Sky 1923, and ending with Equivalentsthe final series can be seen as embodying references to Stieglitz hi mself. Here, Stieglitzs biography mediates the universal. Once interpreted as self-referentiality, the subject matter undermines the notion of universality that the images see k. This referentiality in the Equivalents series is similar to the abstract portraiture of several Stieglitz painters like Demuth and Hartley. In his previous series, Songs of the Sky Stieglitz made several portraits of friends and family using clouds as subject matter.20 This turn to portraiture is not surpri sing, given that the larger portion of his corpus consists mainly of portraits. The kinds of substitutions, exchanges, and equivalency that Stieglitz captured in the work give us a picture of his own biography. Loosely grouped together, Songs of the Sky is a series of smaller sets of photographs. Often the photographs are of clouds and trees, but several are not. For example, one image is a cropped shot of a horses rear flanks ( Spiritual America, Songs of the Sky A1, 1923). Here, Stieglitz is playing with referent and referred. The horses flanks are not literally America, but through the referential nature of allegory, Stieglitz creat es an image of what was Spiritual America machismo harnessed. This also calls into question why Stieglitz categorized this 20 Two series in particular are Portrait of Georgia, No. 2, and 3 1923, and PortraitK.N.R., No. 1-6, also known as Songs of the Sky C 1-6.
19 photograph as a part of Songs of the Sky The titling and categoriza tion seem arbitrary in this case, since there is nothing that would directly tie the subject matter, or even the allegorical nature, to the more symbolic nature of those in the majoritythat is, until Stieglitzs own selfreferentiality is taken into consideration. This photograph shows that it is in the arbitrary relationship to titling and the photographic subjec t where the equivalent occurs for Stieglitz. Selections from Songs of the Sky that make this clear are two photographs titled Portrait of Georgia, No. 2, and No. 3, 1923. The first photograph in the Portrait of Georgia series, Portrait of Georgia, No. 1, is a direct portrait of OKeeffe. She is the subject standing tall and stoic in a three-quarter profile with her face turned direct ly towards the camera. She is dressed in her standard black outfit (black j acket or cape with a black bowle rs hat). The background, most likely the sky, is two-thirds dark grey (almost as dark as her hat and jack et) with white clouds at the top and edges of shadowy trees grounding the bottom of the image. The angle of the shot is from below and the contrast is hi gh, perhaps due to the direct sunli ght hitting her face. Her face becomes an illuminating center, with the tip of her shirt collar and her ears as the brightest white. The shapes Stieglitz crea tes by capturing OKeeffe or the abstract style th at is iconographic of OKeeffe in such high contrast repeat in the other two images where the subject matter turns to clouds. The photographs Portrait of Georgia, No. 2 and No. 3 are intriguing counterpoints for Portrait of Georgia, No. 1. Both photographs use clouds that are backlit by the sun as their subject matter. Stripped of the title and Portrait of Georgia, No. 1 was not in play, the reference to OKeeffe would be all but lost. The mean ing belongs within the realm of language and signification for Stieglitz within this portrait series of OKeeffe. The knowledge of OKeeffe is necessary for the viewer to independently inte rpret all the images. Stieglitz knew that the
20 connection between subject matte r of a photograph and its meani ng is arbitrary, yet dependant. The relationship between what is represented and what is shown is a lingui stic relationship. Just like in any sign, the relationship be tween the signifier and the signifi ed is arbitrary. Therefore, we can see in his images from Songs of the Sky a theoretical underpinning that is the basis for Equivalents. The use of portraiture an d self-representation is just as prevalent in Equivalents as it is in the Songs of the Sky series. The darkness that consumes the photographs Portrait of Georgia, No. 2 and No. 3 again becomes a dominant feat ure of the photographs in Equivalents that were taken in 1929, the year that OKeeffe first went to Taos, New Mexico. Equivalents, Set C2 Nos. 1-5 1929, is a classic example of this self-reflexivity explicitly rela ted to OKeeffe. The set of photographs is striking in its similarity to OK eeffes usage of line and abstraction in her own floral paintings from around the same time, such as Black Iris, 1926. Both artists are using nature as their subject matter. They are cropping in on the subject to th e point of abstraction. Their works are comprised of expressive lines, tones, colors, and suggestion. In all of these photographs, Stieglitz uses a high leve l of contrast due to the direct sunlight. This contrast burns out the shape of the sun in all but one of the photographs. Becaus e of the abstract lines, shapes, tones, and the negating of the sky-ness of the s ubject, the viewer begins to read the image just like an OKeeffe painting. OKeefes set is so definitive for its use of a centrally located oval shape that reads very feminine, if not vaginal. Experience and Transparency By promoting modern art and photography through small gallery exhibitions, major museum exhibitions, and fine-art publications, St ieglitz created a viewership in New York and
21 the United States at large.21 The approach that Stieglitz promoted was one of elitism and artist aesthetics, which came to stand in contradiction to the liberal stance of the photographers of the WPA and the social documentary style that took hold in the 1920s after the rise of the photo magazine.22 For Stieglitz, art was a visual langua ge that was dependant on the viewers experience; this is unlike the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s and the rise of photojournalism, which sought to use photography as a visual tool of communication. In Stieglitzs Equivalents, he was able to achieve a level of transparency through the medium. According to Stieglitz, the true meaning of the photograph was the symbolic meaning True meaning comes through directl y, without any extraneo us or distracting pictorial or representational factors co ming between the person and the picture.23 These were harmonious and transcendent moments that Stiegl itz felt his photographs of clouds conveyed; however, experience undermines th e transcendent qualities. S tieglitzs work, throughout his corpus, is dependant on the experience of the photograph. In the Equivalents, the viewer is supposed to interpret a universa l emotion through the experien ce of viewing the photograph. However, Stieglitzs intentions underwrite his personal experiences. As described above in the Equivalents C2 No. 1-6, the photographs and their arrangeme nt was dependant upon his personal experiences in 1929. The viewer may not emphasize with these particular emotions that Stieglitz experienced and tried to make symbolic in these photographs. Some of the last activ ities at and in Camera Work were devoted to the photographer Paul Strand (1890-1976), a straight photographer known for his crisp fo rmal shots. This medium 21 Trachtenberg, Alan, Cam era Work/Social Work, Reading American Photographs: Images to History, Matthew Brady. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1989), 169. 22 Ileana B. Leavens, From "291" to Zurich: the Birth of Dada. (Ann Arbor, UMI Research Press, 1983) 10. 23 Alfred Stieglitz. How I Came to Photograph Clouds, 238.
22 specific style consisted of trut hfulness to the photographic elem ents that straight photography championed, like transparent depiction. As Charles Wolfe notes in Lovers of Cinema, Straight photography stressed equally a faith in the materiality and integrity of a pro-filmic field and the power of the photographic image to abstract from that field an acutely drawn, clarified image.24 Even during his Pictorialist mode, Stieglitzs images cons isted of a strong geometric arrangement, which could have accounted for his easy transition from Pict orialism to straight photography. Influenced by the transparent nature of Strands photographs and through his compositional strategies of unusual points of view Stieglitz changed his style from Pictorialism to the more avant-garde style of Straight photography. Strands fr aming of the photograph specifically influenced Stieglitz, as he was able to decontextualize the subject matter and create an abstract composition. The viewer can note Strands tec hnique demonstrated in his photograph, Abstraction, Twin Lakes, Connecticut, 1916. This photograph is of a table and a wall, but Strand captured the contrast of light an d the shadows cast across the space. The pattern of light and dark tones, the unusual point of view and tight framing abstract the space and turn the transparent image into an abstract experience. In his abstract images of clouds, Stieglitz stayed true to this medium specific concepti on and was able to work under the pretenses of abstract modernism by making the transparent clouds abstract through photographic editing strategies like cropping. The literal chronology the photographs of the Equivalents series were taken in was not of high importance to Stieglitz, however the experience of dura tion and narration is key to experiencing this series. Unlike the singular pho tographs by Strand, Stieglit zs large-scale series creates duration through the seriality presented in the series. After the images are printed and 24 CharlesWolfe. Straight Shots and Cr ooked Plots: Social Documentary and the Avant-Garde in the 1930s in Lovers of Cinema, ed. Jan-Christopher Hovak (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1995) 238.
23 arranged thematically, narration arises thr ough the rearrangement of the photographs. The narration of each grouping creates formal repetitions in the photographs. Only through these groupings does rhythm or formal repetitions ar ise. The context of any one photograph in the series gives specific meaning to the photograph, even if the meaning of the individual photograph is arbitrary.25 The narration occurs through the nature of the curator that is sympathetic with the viewer and the photographs st aged as sets and in exhibition groups. An ideal viewer is one that is sympathetic a nd involved with Stieglit zs overall biography and photographic project. Coming to the forefront of the knowledgeable viewer when reading the Equivalents is an interpretation that is tied to the biography of Stieglitz, vis-a-vis the formal elements of the photographs. The narrative rhythm that occurs in the photographs is comparable to that of a film reel. Film was coming into its own as an artistic me dium during the 1910s and 1920s. In his work, Stieglitz was not only making a statement on what art photography was, but he was also commenting on the singularity of th e photograph versus the flowing seri ality of the films image. While Stieglitz was not generally an avid f ilm viewer, Strand and Charles Scheelers (18831965) film Manhatta, 1921, may have influenced him as judge d by the shared interest in images of gaseous forms. Manhattas focus on the urban environment a nd steam creates an interesting parallel to the naturalistic, romanticized clouds in Stieglitzs Equivalents series. In Manhatta, Strand and Scheeler use images of steam from rooftops and ships to portray a growingalmost livingManhattan. With its depi ctions of rising skyscrapers and busy ship traffic, a strong connection is forged with Stiegl itzs later series of 80 photographs of skyscrapers under construction. However, the focus on steam, or manufactured clouds, throughout the film 25 This is very much like phonemes and words of a sentence. The sign or word shifts and only takes on a concrete meaning in specific contextualizationthat of the sentence.
24 and how the steam seemingly echoes the film sc ore (or maybe it is the music that echoes the steam) is related in the opposition seen in the more natural rhythms of Equivalents Other connections support the suggesti on that Strand and Scheelers film coul d have influenced Stieglitz. Clearly, Strand and Scheelers Straight photography, marked by its geometric formal arrangement, sharp focus, and lack of diffused lighting, had a deep imp act on Stieglitzs work. Seen through this lens, Stieg litzs photographs become sad memories of a bygone era through the natural and romantic state of clouds in comparison to the manufactured steam seen in the imagery of Scheeler and Strands film. Music and a Visual Language Music was seen as a m edium with few boundaries capable of reaching toward a new realm of abstraction. 26 Katherine Hoffman The Songs of the Sky and Music A Sequence of Ten Photographs explicitly point to music as a parallel to art. For Stieglitz, music was a larg e part of his education from an early age, and it would be through ideas drawn from music that S tieglitz would develop in to an approach to pictorial transcendence and would incorporate playwright Maurice Ma eterlincks notion of correspondences. Other artists al so relied upon notions of corres pondences and equivalency. As Katherine Hoffman notes in her cr itical biography of Stieglitz, Stieglitz: a Beginning Light this notion of song and its connection to spiritual expression seemed to find its roots in rhythms of the American soul and landscape, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s. American writers such as Sherwood Anderson in Mid-American Chants (1918), or Walt Whitman in Song of Myself 26 Hoffman, Stieglitz: A Beginning Light 47.
25 (1855) or Song of the Open Road (1856) used music and song as inspiration for fiction and poems27 In addition, the influence of European appr oaches to music, including Baudelaires is apparent in Stieglitzs philosophy on life. According to Stieglitz, Baudelaire saw all things as potential symbols of a transcendent reality.28 Stieglitz along with the painter Marsden Hartley was also deeply influenced by Kandins ky who articulated the existence of correspondences among color, sound, and emotional states.29 An additional source of inspiration in this regard, was Wa gners usage of leitmotifs. For Stieglitz, the leitmotifs gave Wagner more opportunities to deal with ideas, or links between ideas, such as the unspoken thought of a character on stage.30 In Wagners the subtle shifts in musical tonalities, Stieglitz found a direct inspiratio n for Stieglitzs notions he explored in Equivalents.31 Stieglitzs photographs of clouds are inherently symbolic, like music notes they are signs. Rosalind Krauss proposes that the symbolism presen t in Stieglitzs work is a symbolism as an understanding of language as a form of radical absence the absence, that is, of the world and its objects, supplanted by the sign.32 Stieglitz presented his photographs as independent units; they were arbitrary and disconnected from a historic al context, and the context of the everyday. Reconfigured to new meanings through series of linkages and repetitions the photographs form 27 Ibid., 301 28 Ibid. 29 Ibid. 30 Ibid., 45. 31 Ibid., 46. 32 Krauss, Rosalind. Stieglitz/Equivalents October, Vol. 11, Essays in Honor of Jay Leyda. (Winter, 1979), 140.
26 specific rhythms and patterns that are inflected by Stieglitzs biogra phy and speak this sociocultural moment. In effect, he built a formal system that cut off history and of a world where the marks of the symbol are absent. In this sense, biographical aspects are crucial, the works must be interpreted in relation to broader cultural practices, and those prac tices engineered by the Stieglitz circle. Stieglitz was not alone in engaging a symbolic mode of artistic pr oduction. The artists within the Stieglitz Circle had a deep mistrust of writt en and spoken language within the visual arts. The usage of verbal or written significa tion was not adequate for visual practices. As Hartley noted, A true art needs no speech it speaks for itself.33 Like a direct transcendental experience of music, the work of art shoul d not be mediated th rough a third level of representation written language. For the Stieglitz circle a true art was one that could exist only in itself and should not requ ire explanation or translation. If an art employed visual language, it would be a language of the symbol of pure experience. Although an image might refer to texts, they were not to be taken as explanatory. Thus, any of the works within the Stieglitz circle reference Whitman, William Ca rlos Williams, and other American poets. This creation of a visual langua ge is literally demonstrated in the artwork of Charles Demuth. Instead of capturing likenesses, Demuth combined objects, signs, and names to evoke the subjects in his series of Poster Portraits The Figure Five in Gold, 1928, is a prime example. The theme of the number five comes from a poem by Carlos Williams about seeing a fire engine pass in the street. Instead of painting a portr ait of the poets likeness, Demuth painted a combination of signs that evoke the work by and inference Carlos Williams himself. The blocks of red are representative of th e fire engine; the words Bill and WCW are direct signs of 33 Hole, Heather, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, and Marsden Hartley. Marsden Hartley and the West: The Search for an American Modernism (New Haven; Santa Fe, N.M.: Yale University Press; Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. 2007), 121
27 Carlos Williams. This abstraction is essential to the formation of correspondences or equivalency. Machine and Symbol The im pact of the camera in the nineteenth cen tury was based on its powers of description and generalization: it summed up experience, presenti ng a normative vision of the world that could enter the common memory as a facsimile of reality, an imitation founded on typological representation; it extend ed the individuals power of visi on, and it provided modelsimages ready to the minds eyefor thinking about the world.34 Miles Orvell The theory of the camera as a producer of a facsimile of reality which developed during the end of the nineteenth century, is challenged through the abstract images produced by Stieglitz. While Stieglitz s early photographs like a Bit of Venice 1898, has sources in the works of F. Holland Day and other Pictorialists, yet already in th is work, the viewer can read a specific intentionality in the point of view. Bit of Venice is a Romanticized view of a street in Venice. Carefully selected, the point of view em phasizes the idealistic qualities of the scene. Stieglitzs later approach emphasized the phot ographers eye, his particular angle on the subject, whether detailed close-up or aerial view.35 It also made the photograph a product of a machine, as opposed to a facsimile of normal vision.36 This is echoed in the sentiments of Stieglitz, as seen in the port rait of Stieglitz by Picabia, Here, This Is Stieglitz Here 1915. Picabias captures Stieglitzs failed attempt to inspire Ameri cans through art and photography. With the raised lens and the deflated bellow below, the camera is impotent. The motorcar brake, in red, is in motion, as if signaling the futile co ntinuation of Stieglitzs beliefs and methodology. 34 Orvell, The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture 1880-1940. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1989), 198. 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid.
28 The script with which Picabia spells IDEAL is an antique, outdated script one that is found in manuscripts than in modern literature and periodicals. This follows the iconography of Stieglitzthat has an old preacher or prophet. It also captures the photographer as an extension of the machine. The power of the photograph lies in the fact that it is produced by and through a machine, leaving it to function as an in strument of revelation, changing our way of thinking about, and seeing the world. In proclaiming its duality as a way of seeing what was at once scientific and artistic, photography assumed a special importan ce in twentieth century culture, becoming a symbol of a kind of vision that is central to the culture of authenticity.37 As critics and contemporary photographers noted in 1921, Stieglitzs aesthetics lay in the camera as a machine that was tuned to the new age.38 Stieglitz used the camera not only as a recording device, but also as an interpretive device th at allowed him to develop authen tic insights and profound truths. The authenticity of the photograph allowed Stieglitz to occupy the position of genius creator. Through his use of the machine, he produced a p hotograph that could regi ster a symbolic truth, even if the machinery itself was a contradiction to the nature depicted within the photograph. 39 One challenge was to overcome the hard facticity of the camera/machine and the need for deeper truths of the soul. For Stieglitz, modern ity as embodied in New York City, lacked a soul in the Romantic sense.40 Paul Rosenfeld concurred with th is assessment, writing Stieglitz is hinting at an intentiona l synthesis of machine and man of exac tly the sort that he was about to 37 Orvell, The Real Thing, 198-99. 38 Ibid., 199. 39 Orvell continues, But significantly the rhetoric of pho tographic discussion remained surprisingly consistent, revolving around the persistent goal of representing some more intense, more authentic reality, beyond mere replication, something closer than realism to the real thing itself. Ibid. 40 Ibid., 327.
29 become identified with.41 The tension between machine im agery and the pursuit of universal insight, again points back to the portrait by Picabia with its faile d synthesis of Stieglitz and the camera. Miles Orvell notes that Walt Whitman wa s a force standing behind this conception of photography, as science and art fused together. Pushing Whitmans influence even further, Orvell states that it was Whitman who was incr easingly invoked as th e great precursor of modernism, the artist who had vivified facts, whose trans cendent vision was rooted in materiality. And if Whitman was a central insp iration to American artists during the years between the wars (including writers), Stieglitz himself was Whitman Reborn.42 Rosenfeld borrows from Whitman when he describes Stiegl itzs organic aesthetic, in which a circuit is created between the world and the eye.43 This proclamation of Stieglitz being Whitman Reborn squarely fits Stieglitz within the Romant ic sentiment and ideology. It is here that a tradition of an American art form is already in existence. For example, Stieglitz, in the 1930s, was regularly being placed in the lineage of orig inal American Artists, the great pantheon of organic functionalists44 This lineage would include artist s like Louis Sullivan, Whitman, and Emerson. Contradictions lie with in Stieglitzs strong di slike of industry and capitalism that fueled American modernization at the turn of the century. This modern form or stylization demonstrated through artists like Francis Pi cabia and Charles Demuth. These and other American artists, championed by Stieglitz, were adopting the rhetoric of the machine in their artistic forms. Walter B. Kalaidjian states, T he futurist imagery of American industry had 41 Ibid. 42 Ibid., 204. 43 Ibid. 44 Ibid.
30 served the New York Dadaists in the 1910s in their rebellion against the kind of European modernism exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show.45 This rhetoric also guided the subject matter of the Stieglitz circle, the artists that Stieglitz avidly pr omoted from the 1910s to the 1940s. Picabia pointed to his arrival in New York as the epiphany through that machinery, art ought to find a most vivid expression.46 Stieglitz embodied these new mechanical forms through his promotion of new photographic equipment and techniques in Camera Work (1903-1917).47 Stieglitzs support and promotion of an American art form taking the shape of the machine is yet another paradox in his work. Once at the height of culture, industrialization changed the social construct of New York and American values. Ye t, as materialism increased, it became contrary to Stieglitzs Romantic ideals of art aesthetic being separate from capitalism Concerning the Spiritual in Art Synesthesia, equivalency, transcendence a nd correspondences all sh are common traits and are all aesth etics of the symbol and theories of the sign that provide inroads to Stieglitzs understanding of the sign and of his notion of equivalency. At th e turn of the twentieth century, these ideas linked to a kind of spirituality that thought to be present wi thin the transcendent nature of art. The arbitrary titling and arrangement of Equivalents comes into light when looking at specific sets within the series. According to the Key Set at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the sets varied throughout. One of these double-labeled sets is Songs of the 45 Walter B. Kalaidjian, American Culture Between the Wars: Revisi onary Modernism and Postmodernism Critique, (New York: Columbia Univer sity Press, 1993), 147. 46 Ibid. 47 Ibid..
31 Sky XX2-5/Equivalents XX2-5, 1923 or 1929.48 The first set is missing and it is not related to the set with the same XX titling from 1929.49 Even with the uncertain dating, the viewer can gain a sense of arbitrary placement if gi ven the dual titles, or if presente d with a large-sc ale exhibition. If viewed within the smaller set, however, th e images seem very purposefully ordered in a specific context. The meaning of the indivi dual photographs beco mes secondary to the arrangement of the pieces. This is very much like phonemes within a verbal or written grammatical language. Formally, all four photographs of this set are similar in structure. The darkest parts of the photographs are the sky, wh ich punctuated highlights of cumulous clouds against the dark background. The clouds are backlit by the sun, giving the photographs a range of dark and light tones in the shadows and highlights of the clouds. The displacement via cropping of the photographs hides the fact that thes e are clouds, until the vi ewer notices the hint of a circlethe sun. Once the clouds are inte rpretedif they are recognized at allthe photographs become very disorientating. The sky dur ing the day is now as dark as night. What was once up is now forward. The viewer instantly feels a sense of vertigo or the sensation of soaring throughout the set. The repetition of forms creates a pulse that gives rhythm and movement to the set, but only as a set does this rhythm arise. Moving from XX2 to XX3 and so on, the viewer can sense the movement, which is just as disorientating as the placement of the clouds at eye level. In this small set, the viewer becomes aware of the paradoxes that ar e present between the subject matter and the formal elements. Th e photographs are approximately three by four inches; this small size makes the images incredib ly intimate. These photographs are designed for 48 Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz | the Key Set, LXVII. 49 Ibid. 698.
32 a single viewer at a time. The large scale of the mat that su rrounds the very elegant prints enhances the smallness of the photographs. This intimacy is at once contradicted by the grandeur and jubilation of th e cumulous clouds. The clouds are too big for the space, and instantly, the framing and cropping is intangible. The flatness of the actual photograph is in a paradoxical relationship with the space that is perceived within the capturing of the clouds. Do the varied titles Songs of the Sky or Equivalentschange the meaning for the viewer? One difference is the direct implication of music in Songs of the Sky ; however, there are still notions of transcendence apparent in both titles. Intertwined in the Stie glitz circle and in art theories at the beginning of the twentieth cen tury were the ideas of equivalence and the transcendent qualities of music. This was most prominently noted in the work of Wassily Kandinsky, who was the most influential on S tieglitzs development of art theory. The dislocation of transparen t representation of subject ma tter is deeply tied into the understanding of what equivalent means. Greenough states that to the ar tists affiliated with Stieglitzs 291 Gallery, the term equivalent was similar to the Symbolist idea of synesthesia.50 Hartley says an equivalent is a sign or symbol for the ideas of spirit. Hartleys definition was repeated throughout the works of the Stieglitz Circle, but it was not unique to them. In 1912, Stieglitz was the first to translate Kandinskys theory of equivalence, Concerning the Spiritual in Art from German to English in Camera Work. Kandinsky believed that abstract forms, lines, and colors could expound corresponding inner states, emotions, and ideas.51 For Kandinsky, clarity and obscurity were represented by the colors white and black. Through their contrast, a static feeling on the level of silence was achieved. White represented absolute silence that was 50 Ibid. XLII. Synesthesiathe possibility of suggesting one thing by means of another. 51 Ibid.
33 hopeful, and black represented death, the hopeless s ilence. For Stieglitz, this contrast signaled music, a visual repetition of rhythm and moveme nt that was silent. Thus, the transition from Songs of the Sky to Equivalents is not what makes these images arbitrary. The meanings that shift through each photograph, and how the photographs shift in context, are what give the series its arbitrary feeling. In their works, the members of the Stieglitz circle tried to capture equivalents of their inner experiences and psychologies. Thes e inner experiences, or symbo lisms, were more important to the nature of the photograph than the subject matter depicted. I n looking at my photographs of clouds, Stieglitz concluded, people seemed freer to think about the relationships in the pictures than about subject matter for its own sake.52 The relationships that he is pointing to are these constructions of sets that crea te a narrative rhythm. By openi ng up the photograph, Stieglitz was not only making a parallel to art, but was allowi ng for less transparent meanings to form through the imagination of the viewer.53 Through this interaction between the photograph and the viewer, a personal, almost spiritual, meani ng arises. Whether the narrative is one of transcendence, as Stieglitz claimed, or one of purely formal relations hip is dependent upon the subjectivity of the viewer. As Kristina Wilson points out, th e photographs were made with a period-specific concept of spirituality derived from Transcendentalism a nd Theosophical ideas, such as the intertwined nature of bodily experience and spiritual knowledge and the loss of oneself in an oceanic cosmos at the moment of enlightenment.54 This concept of spirituality in the Equivalents series was 52 Ibid. 53 Here, we could fall back to Coleridge and his notion of the imagination being the agent through which transcendental action occurs. 54 Kristina Wilson. The Intimate Gallery and the Equivalents: Spirituality in the 1920s work of Stieglitz Art Bulletin, Vol. 85, No. 4 (Dec., 2003).746.
34 something that Stieglitz hims elf stated when he made the famous announcement that he photographed God.55 In this statement, we could also s ee that the agent of transcendence is the genius of the photographer. Spirituality was not only present in the phot ographs, but was integr al to Stieglitzs philosophy as a whole. In his manifesto for th e Intimate Galleries, he alluded about how art guides viewers to a spiritual state. Wilson states, Ultim ately, although the ideal behind [Stieglitzs] theories was of an expansive mo ment of elevated awareness of the world, his multifaceted tactics tended to seem coercive, de manding mental submission rather than fostering genuine mental openness.56 This idea of demanding mental submission is derived not only from the small size of the photographs, but also the environment in which they are seen. Almost as if he was dared by comments made by Waldo Frank, Stieglitz sought to photograph something that was beyond his ability to hypnotize. If nature were divine, then surely Stieglitz could not control it. This petulant res ponse resorted back to hi s views of rebellion and experimentation, but was only made possible by his Romantic belief in the transcendent power of nature. This idea also touched upon the c onnections of photography and nature. Photography has long been thought to be natu res pencil. Here, Stieglitz wa s taking part in a continuing dialogue between nature and photogr aphy, a link that is heightened when the viewer returns to the subject matter within the Equivalents series. The first in a long line of cloud photographs is the small series, MusicA Sequence of Ten Photographs 1922. This series was created in response to major criticisms of his work that was shown in a large solo exhibition in 1921 at th e Anderson Galleries in New York, New York. The 55 Ibid. Connections can be made between Stieglitzs announcement and Coleridges idea of the imagination opening up the binary of the divine and the written word. 56 Ibid. 747-48.
35 criticism stemmed mainly from art critic Henr y McBride, but also came from several major literary sources, including Waldo Frank. McBrid e charged Stieglitzs photography with being essentially aristocratic and expe nsive His impressions are printed luxuriously upon the rarest papers to secure a richness of effect that must always lie beyond the appreciation of the multitude.57 McBride was right on Stieglitzs philos ophy was to create priceless imagery for a select few who he deemed good enough. Transcendentalists popularized the belief that natural wilderness contains within it evidence of the divine workings of God.58 More specifically, American Transcendentalism held that every object symbolized both material and spiritual existence.59 However, Wilson is quick to point out that Stieglitz never directly cited Transcendental ists. She states, His affinity with their tradition is revealed in both his wi llingness to privilege a spiritual interpretation of landscape painting at his gallery and his own rhap sodic love of the Lake George landscape.60 This spirituality stemmed from the increasing role of transcendentalism within American society. Following World War I, tenets of rationalism and humanism were challenged by the horrific violence of mass, mechanized war. Amer icans started to look to writers and spiritual sources to became reconnected with humanity and spirituality. Emulated by Ralph Waldo Emerson, transcendentalism was pr imarily concerned with the loss of the spiritual in everyday 20th twentieth century life. 57 Greenough, Alfred Stieglitzs Photographs of Clouds. 138 58 Wilson, The Intimate Gallery and the Equivalents, 748. 59 Ibid. 60 Ibid. According to Wilson, his letters regarding Lake George often read like Thoreau or Emerson. Waldo Frank was a friend and active transcendentalist who often made th e comparison of Stieglitz to transcendentalist beliefs.
36 The Symbolic When looking at Equivalents, the viewer should be transp orted from a particular experience to a universal feelingan almo st Zen-like state. For example, in Equivalents C2 nos. 1-5 the viewer should be moved to a feeling, perh aps of loss, through the rhythms of dark tones and contrasting whites that are repeated thr oughout the five photographs. The images are abstracted through cropping and soft focus. In several photographs, even the sun is eliminated, making the photograph only about tone, line, move ment, and contrast. Through the photographs vertical orientation, the viewer can lose his or her own orientati on to the ground and, therefore, is free of any direct correlations of place and time. One can gain further insight into the meaning of Stieglitzs work by looking at Coleridges theory of the symbolthe product of organic growth of form.61 The symbol present here is particular to the American Romantic movement and is a figure of presence linked to the transcendental. Genius, which is li mited by the individual (in this ca se, the artist), taps directly into a truth moment. It is through the work of the genius that an i ndividual truth is translated into a general truth, a transcendental moment. He re, I would posit Stieglitz as the genius who translates through his photographs individual moments, which can or cannot lead to moments of universal truths. This transcendence occurs through the imagination of the viewer. Art for Stieglitz was a vehicle for the symbolic Stieglitz needed to work in a symbolic mode if he was to work in an American style. The symbol is total, single, and has a universal 61.Paul DeMan. The Rhetoric of Temporality, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1983), 191.
37 meaning.62 It is through the valorizatio n of symbol at the expense of allegory that the Romantic period is marked. Allegory gave rise to obvious fictions intended to impart moral understandingit requires the literal meaning to be inherent with in the image just as much as the symbolic meaning. By contrast, th is sifting notion of th e symbol coincides with the growth of an aesthetic that refuses to distinguish between expe rience and the representation of experience. In the Equivalents series, and any of Stieglitz s later works, the viewer is meant to experience the photograph, instead of noticing its materiality or mediation of a representation. Through the symbol, the viewer is able to connect a particular instance or moment to a totality of the human experience.63. Stieglitz believed that abstraction was another way to reach enlightenment. In addition, Stieglitz himself believed that realism was an essential tool for conveying spiritual ideas. Stieglitz saw spirituality not as an intellectualized abstract state, but as intimately linked with the awesomeness of ones embodied existence.64 Stieglitzs view of spirituality was very similar to how Walter Benjamin saw symbolism within a wo rk of art. Stieglitz and Benjamin were developing these ideas of spirituality and symbolism from transcendentalism. Gramatical Structures The Stieglitz photographs of these later years are basically one th ing said m any ways. Prints of the clouds, landscapes, friends, are closely akin to each other.65 Doris Bry 62 Christian Metz. Photography and the Fetish. Ed. Carol Squiers. The Critical Image: Essays on Contemporary Photography. (Seattle: Bay Press. 1990), 189. 63 Ibid., 191. 64 Wilson, The Intimate Gallery and the Equivalents, 755. 65 Doris Bry. Alfred Stieglitz: Photographer. (Boston: distributed by New York: October House, 1965), 17.
38 There is a shared methodology in the later years of Stiegl itzs photographic works. The skyscrapers, the poplars, the apples, and the cl ouds all share qualities that were not overtly present in his work before 1917. These shared elements are repeatedly noted. Doris Bry attributes these similarities in the photographs to Stie glitzs feelings at a particular time than [to] their subject matter.66 This attachment to transcendent alism and Symbolist ideas dominates the dialogue of these photographs. While there is evidence of these ideas in play, there are also issues having to do with organi zation and arrangement that point to other sources of influence that have consistently been overlooked when interpreting Equivalents Unlike his singular photographic work before 1917, the works created la ter consist largely of series. The object captured by the camera is elevated to the status of fetishized subject with seriality. However, with this series, it is not what the camera is capturing clouds but the actual prints them. Clouds are not the objects at ha nd, the printed photogra ph, and the immateriality captured therein is fetishized. The title, Equivalents, implies two objects that are equita ble, but the photographs only present half of the equation. Ther e is an inherent lack in the Equivalents series. As Christian Metz argues, The spectator has no empirical knowledge of the cont ents of the off-frame, but at the same time cannot help imagining some off-fram e, hallucinating it, drea ming the shape of this emptiness.67 Yet, by its emptiness or lack of presen ce, the other half of the equation is ever presentinsisting on its presence as excluded 68 In this series of photographs, Stieglitz has specifically framed the images as lack. As with many of the aforementioned photographs, he captured the sky, which can read as full (of clouds) or lack of subject. For instance, the sky as 66 Bry, Alfred Stieglitz: Photographer 17. 67 Metz, Photography and the Fetish, 155. 68 Metz, Photography and the Fetish, 155.
39 lack comes into play when common adjectives like vast and empty are used to describe it. By titling the photographs Equivalents, Stieglitz is forcing the view er to think outside or offframe to what is lacking in-frame. By castr ating the other end of the equivalent equation, Stieglitz creates a fetishone that is repeated several hundred times. Its repetition reinforces its fetishization.69 Within Equivalents, the viewer can read the lack of control within the image via experiencing the photograph first hand. Many of the photographs contain no horizon line and are re-orientated, all of which adds to the sense of free falling or vertigo that these images instill. Rosalind Krauss mentions this sense of vertigo in her article, Stieglitz/Equivalents. In her article, Krauss gives a purely formal reading of the grammatical structuring of the series. Krauss argues that Stieglitzs Equivalents are art because of the cropping and subsequent divorcing the image from any relationship to the ground. Through this divorce of subject matter and context, abstract qualities ar ise that disorientate the viewer. While this is true for the majority of the images, it does not accurately characterize the en tire series. For instance, the images of the poplars and their formal relationship to Stiegl itzs portraits undermine the power of this argument. Moreover, by negating the hist orical contextualization of Stieglitzs Equivalents Krauss relegates the subject ma tter to oblivion. The subjec t matter underpins the formal structuring of the series. The two elements are intimately tied in the Equivalents series. Krauss elaborates that the vertical of the clouds calls to mind both our need for orientations and our customary m eans of achieving it by recourse to a horizon that will organize and confirm our relation to the earth.70 The viewer recognizes th e clouds, yet through this 69 Metz, Photography and the Fetish, 155-56. Metonymically the photograph alludes to the lack of a subject or context. Metaphorically it is equivalent to the penis. 70 Krauss. Stieglitz/Equivalents, 129.
40 recognition, becomes more disorientated because the clouds are no longer connected to their familiar context. This was achieved in Equivalents post 1927, where the ground is completely removed and the tonalities of the poplars are more of an abstraction of to nes rather than images of trees. The thoughts of finding memory or a f eeling of disorientation are connected to the formal attributes of the photogra phs themselves. The fact that the viewer looks for something to locate him or herself in the relationship of ground and sky and is not able to find it on the cheap postcard stock paperinstead of s ilver gelatin or platinum prints is rather intriguing. The icon of memorabilia transforme d into reminiscence. For Equivalents, Stieglitz took a readily accessible subj ect (the sky), used a populist format (postcard stock), and transformed them through th e medium of photography into a more elevated statusthe art object. Postcards were perhaps one of the most popular photographic formats of the early twentieth century. Until the 1930s, when more populist alte rnatives of photography arose, the postcard was a cheap, easily accessible, and highly collectible form of communication. Stieglitz once said, Clouds were there for everyoneno tax as yet on themfree.71 Part of this commentary shadowed by the fact that St ieglitz was on the verge of bankruptcy after the failure of the 291 Gallery. Before MusicA Sequence of Ten Photographs Stieglitz was notorious for using the palladium printing process, which was one of the most expensive photographic printing processes at th e time. After receiving the cri ticism from his last exhibition, Stieglitz was determined to make a point. He responded by making these next images on the least elite paper possiblepostcar d stock. Highly collectable a nd numerous in subject matter, postcards were, perhaps, an early companion to the common snapshot. The United States Post Office reported that from June 1907 to June 1908 more than 667 million postcards, many of 71 Stieglitz, Alfred, How I Came to Photograph Clouds, 235.
41 them picture post cards, were sent.72 Kodak even manufactured the Folding Camera 3A, a camera specifically made for laypeople to photograph their own picture postcards.73 Thus, with the given popularity of the postcard shortly before the 1920s, Stieglitzs usage of postcard stock to print his images should not be taken lightly. By using postcard stock, Stieglitz was maki ng a definitive statement. Whether that statement was tongue in check or earnest, the f act that he went from using one of the most expensive forms of photographythe palladium prin tto one of the most banal, was a very calculated move. Yet, Stieglitz short-circuited this usage of populist materials and subject matter through his philosophy of what constituted a finish ed photograph. Stieglitz mounted all of his photographs, including the Equivalents, to very specific dimensions. For Stieglitz, the photograph was not finished until mounted. Because of this, the viewer cannot easily read that the print is on postcard stock unless he or she ca n handle the actual mounted print. This is not surprising to find, since Stieglitz believed that art was higher than material goodsit was to be separate from the material world. Stieglitz regularly cropped images in the initial production negatives; however, he often recropped and reoriented the photographs to pro duce two images from one. This cropping and reframing of the photographs plays on the viewers previous experience, by requiring the viewer to mentally fill-in missing features and to comp lete partial forms. The photographs are small and capture expansive depth, however once the viewer recognizes the subject matter, their previous knowledge of the sky as expansive makes the photogr aphs all the more intimate, an intimacy that borders on claustrophobia in several cases. 72 Mary Warner Marien. Photography: A Cultural History (New York: Harry N. Abrams), 171. 73 Ibid.
42 The other shared quality in the later series is Stieglitzs consistent focus on the arrangement and composition. Several of the pho tographs are tilted on the corner, making the photograph a diamond rather than a rectangle. While many of the photographs of OKeeffe share a complete dependence on the cropping of the negative in the production of the photograph. Stieglitzs continued focus on the ma teriality of the photographs short circuit and support the transcendent qualities that the pho tographs are to convey. Through cropping and rearrangement, the photographs achieve a level of abst raction through decont extualization that straight photography cannot norma lly achieve. The cropping is at once instantly noticeable directing the viewers attention away from the transcendent meaningand necessary.
43 CHAPTER 2 CONCLUSION There are many ways to read or in roa ds that can be made into the Equivalents series. The Equivalents could be approached as an opposition to traditional tropes of the landscape, and influenced by his biography and personal experien ces. They can also be approached through the style of portraiture and its rela tion to the landscape, film, and through the leverage provided by the earlier series. Stie glitzs own role as cu rator and through his interpretation of straight photography shaped the formal styling of the series. The average viewer is not able to have the hi storical information at hand when viewing the series in a typical museum context. This begs the question as to whether Equivalents is successful or still relevant if the contextualizatio n of the works is different 80 years later. While relevancy is a subjective issue, I do not think that Equivalents has the same impact today, now that Stieglitzs life a nd issues of Romanticism are no longe r at the forefront of our cultural understanding. Issues of exhibition presen tation compound questions of contemporary interpretation. Stieglitz was very particular as to how his photographs were to be shown. It does appear that, due to the arbitrar y nature of the subject matter, Stieglitzs curatorial practice ultimately underlined the contextual understanding of these photographs. Without documentation of their original exhibition cont exts, can the contemporary viewer garner an interpretation of Equivalents as originally intended? I ask these questions afte r describing the layering of Equivalents because these issues arise after the formal structuring and cultu ral contexts are understood. In most cases, Equivalents is shown using Stieglitzs framing guidelines as interpreted by the curator at hand, not as
44 Stieglitz himself would have curated. At the Minnea polis Institute of Art, there is only a single photograph shown from the Equivalents series. Showing a single photograph, instead of a set, changes the nature of the interpretation of the photographs, as they are meant to be seen as a plurality. To refer back to Stieglitz, the viewer should think about the relations hips in the pictures than about subject matter for its own sake.1 Subject matter alone is not enough to support the structuring of these images. The Equivalents, and perhaps most of his later works, need to be seen in a specifically structured context in the series or sets ascribed by Stieglitz. Through their plurality arises a more complex understanding of Stieglitzs work. It is difficult to state specifically how the Equivalents were intended to be viewed, as there is very little documentation of Stieglitzs curatorial practice and the arrangements of his exhibitions of these works. However, if an expanded notion of the Equivalents one that incorporates a reading of the material structuringthan a clearer reading is possible. 1 Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz | the Key Set, XLII.
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50 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Nicole E. Soukup attended the University of Minnesota and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and double m i nor in studio art and anthropol ogy. Her primary focus of study is in the history of photography and contemporar y art. She has studied in Morocco, Italy, Mexico, and Guatemala. She received her Master of Arts in the spring of 2009, and plans to pursue her Ph.D. within the history of art.