CAMERA WORK and CAMERA NOTES (1897 - 1917)

In 1896, when New York’s two leading amateur camera clubs merged to create the Camera Club of New York, Alfred Stieglitz saw the chance to improve the American discourse on “artistic” photography. He proposed that the club’s journal, which had until then contained mostly meeting notes and technical tips, be expanded “to take cognizance also of what is going on in the photographic world at large, to review new processes and consider new instruments and agents as they come into notice; in short to keep our members in touch with everything connected with the progress and elevation of photography.”

Under the new name of Camera Notes, the publication reviewed not only local exhibitions but national and international ones, and it featured discussions on both the practical aspects of taking pictures as well as the aesthetic considerations of the medium. Most notably, in addition to numerous half-tone reproductions of photographs, the journal published at least two high-quality photogravures in each issue. Under Stieglitz’s editorial leadership, the Camera Club would also publish two editions of American Pictorial Photography (in 1899 and 1901), a portfolio of mounted photogravures selected from plates featured in Camera Notes. Stieglitz intended the portfolios to exemplify “the most characteristic examples of the work of those Americans whose names are best known to the club or whose influence has been most pronounced on the development of pictorial photography in America.”

This new direction was welcomed by some, but others took issue with Stieglitz’s domination of the member-based organization. In 1902, after several power struggles, Stieglitz resigned his editorship of Camera Notes, going on to found the Photo-Secession and Camera Work within a year’s time. Centered around Stieglitz’s charismatic leadership, these later endeavors allowed him the freedom to realize his vision of photography’s artistic values.

From 1903 until 1917, Alfred Stieglitz Published Camera Work, a luxurious and influential photographic quarterly designed by Edward Steichen. It is known not only for its beautiful photogravures reproducing the fine photographs of the Photo-Secession, but also for its introduction of modern European art to America. Having just broken away from the Camera Club of New York (due to backlash against his exacting aesthetic policies), Stieglitz originally positioned Camera Work as the unofficial organ for the Photo-Secession, the exclusive group of self-consciously artistic photographers he founded in 1902. He devoted entire issues to the work of Secessionists Edward Steichen, Clarence White, and Gertrude Käsebier and showcased works by many others, including Alvin Langdon Coburn. The magazine served as an important platform for debate about photography’s aspirations to high art and about the relationship of artistic photography to developments in modern art, especially the recent art from Europe, which gradually infiltrated its pages. Stieglitz’s views of what constituted a viable photographic art evolved during the years spanned by the journal. As he began showing modern art in his gallery, he reproduced prints and drawings by Auguste Rodin, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso in Camera Work, together with reviews and articles by Vasily Kandinsky, Gertrude Stein, and other important thinkers of the era. From an initial commitment to the Pictorialists’ soft-focus, heavily manipulated images, Stieglitz gradually developed a theory of “straight photography” under the pressures of the more abstract art coming from Europe, favoring the unmanipulated camera image and tending toward forms of found abstraction. The last issue of the magazine featured a portfolio of Paul Strand’s pictures, including a variant of Porch Railings, Twin Lakes, Connecticut, which combine direct realistic representation of things, people, and urban scenes with a vision that Stieglitz praised as “brutally direct.
—Audrey Sands, Museum of Modern Art (

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