Alfred Stieglitz, ‘The Steerage’, 1907, Shapero Modern

Stieglitz’s most iconic photograph.

In June 1907, Stieglitz and his family sailed to Europe to visit relatives and friends. They booked passage on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, one of the largest and fastest ships in the world at that time. According to Stieglitz, sometime after their third day of travel, he went for a walk around the ship and came upon a viewpoint that looked down toward the lower class passengers area, known on most ships as the steerage.

The Steerage began its life as a masterpiece four years after its creation, with Stieglitz's publication of it in a 1911 issue of Camera Work devoted exclusively to his photographs in the "new" style, together with a Cubist drawing by Picasso. Stieglitz loved to recount how the great painter had praised the collage-like dispersal of forms and shifting depths of The Steerage. Canonised retroactively, the photograph allowed Stieglitz to put his chosen medium on par with the experimental European painting and sculpture he imported and exhibited at his gallery.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) was a major force in the promotion and elevation of photography as a fine art in America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Steerage is considered Stieglitz's signature work, and was proclaimed by the artist and illustrated in histories of the medium as his first "modernist" photograph. It marks Stieglitz's transition away from painterly prints of Symbolist subjects to a more straightforward depiction of quotidian life.

About Alfred Stieglitz

Through his work and writing, photographer Alfred Stieglitz was instrumental in establishing photography as a recognized fine art form. Some of Steiglitz's best-known photographs are of the painter Georgia O'Keeffe (who would eventually become his wife), and in line with his belief that great photography “becomes more real than reality,” these close-up portraits convey as much about form as they do about her personality and their relationship. Stieglitz was feverishly devoted to his work and mission and produced thousands of editions in his lifetime, covering numerous themes that captured a period of rapid transition in American society. In 1905, he opened 291 Gallery in New York City to promote pioneering photographers and avant-garde European artists. Stieglitz achieved his goal to have photography shown alongside painting and, due to his efforts, is known as an important proponent of early modernism and not only as a promoter of photography.

American, 1864-1946, Hoboken, NJ, United States, based in New York, NY, United States