Posts Tagged ‘key works’

Steiglitz Key Set

Saturday, June 8th, 2019


Back in 2002, the US National Gallery of Art published the massive two-volume ‘Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set – Volume I & II: The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Photographs‘ by Sarah Greenough, 1012 pages lavishly printed and weighing over 18 lbs, presenting the complete set of 1,642 photographs of his work, selected after his death in 1946 by his wife, the painter Georgia O’Keeffe who devoted three years of her life to sorting out the best examples of each of the finished and mounted prints in his possession when he died.

O’Keeffe presented the bulk of this work to the NGA in 1949, adding most of the rest, including well over 300 portraits of herself in 1980 which had previously only been on loan. There are several versions of many of the works, sometimes in different media and in some cases quite differently cropped and sometimes made over many years.

The book was a truly fine publication, heavily subsidised by generous donors, but in many respects the recent online presentation is preferable. Certainly the search facility is a great addition, as is the ability to zoom in on pictures, particularly for those of us whose eyesight is a little less sharp than it once was. And you can mark several pictures to compare them together on screen.

Those large and heavy paper volumes are also just a little difficult to handle, while the on-line presentation is excellent, enabling you to page easily through the pictures in order should you wish to, zooming in to them or scrolling down on the page to read more about them (they make use of the open source IIPMooViewer – you can read more about this should you be interested in a case study about the NGA on the IIPImage site.) The site seems to work remarkable quickly on my internet connection and you can also download the pages as PDFs should you wish to do so.

Of course the quality of reproduction of the online version will depend on the device you view this on, and your phone may not display them quite as well as a large calibrated monitor. But even more than the book, this is an enormous and fascinating work of scholarship.

Stieglitz remains one of the most important figures in the history of our medium, a major player as a photographer both in pictorialism and the move away from this to modernism and straight photography, as a photographer and also as an editor and curator. He was a prime mover in establishing photography as art and promoted the work of a number of photographers and painters through Camera Work magazine and his galleries, though it was only quite a few years after his death that an art market for photography came into being. He sold very few of his own images, and most of those in museum collections came like those at the NGA, from donations either by himself orafter his death by O’Keefe.

Despite the superiority of the online version, there is still something about the print version which I prefer, and it can still be bought on Amazon and elsewhere, with both new and secondhand copies on offer, but at a price. The cheapest I found in a very brief search, including shipping to the UK is around £170, though some dealers are asking up to £600. When I bought my copy I think I paid less than some are now charging for shipping.