Esteemed thinker: Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz We humans believe that we are a sophisticated species having the ability to control so many aspects of our lives. We can decide where we live, when we eat, and how we spend days.

However, one small finicky component that we often do not seem to have as much control over is our mood. The disposition of our day can be easily altered and what began as a glorious morning may be modified, turning a seemingly pleasant afternoon into a dreary day. And the culprit for our gloom may be something that we, like it or not, have no control over… none other than Mother Nature.

Mother Nature has the ability to malign our attitude as quickly as she can turn the blue sky grey. How often do we find ourselves in a sour mood when it rains or complain when it is too hot? Her seasonal whims can make entire nations grumpy, putting scowls upon the faces of folks who only a few weeks before were delighting outside, now shielding themselves from the harsh and cold winter winds.

So as much as we would like to believe we are in control …take heed, there is a force greater than our own that “shall we say” owns our temperaments…it is our dear Mother…nature!

Today’s blog finds a path to the esteemed thinker: Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946). Acclaimed photographer and art promoter, he was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, but received his formal education in engineering in Germany. Upon his return to the New York City in 1890, he set his sights on establishing photography as a “legitimate” form of art. Early in his career Stieglitz led a movement called Pictorialism, which promoted the photograph as art, with an emphasis that a photograph was created when the camera was used as a tool, like a paintbrush or palette knife was a tool. His own work grew with his artistic achievements where he began to use the natural elements, such a weather, to create effects and the camera’s focusing abilities to soften the frames.

In 1905, he founded the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York, with Edward Steichen, which later became known simply as 291. Here he was able to elevate photography to the status of sculpture and painting. His own work

In 1917 he met the great American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who becomes his lover and finally his wife in 1924. Over a period of 20 years, he had taken over 300 individual pictures of her, which demonstrates his unique and undeniable artistic ability to capture many facets of a single subject.

I now present to you a photogravure (1892) titled Winter – Fifth Avenue by the great photographer, Steiglitz. His ability to transport a mood is forever a testimony to his creative talents and artistic eye.

Winter - Fifth Avenue

Winter – Fifth Avenue

First image: Portrait of Alfred Stieglitz (1902) by Käsebier, Gertrude

Esteemed thinker: Jacob A. Riis

Jacob riis “A picture speaks a thousand words…” An adage that we have all heard, all recognize by its metaphoric content; but I wonder… is this the rallying cry of the photojournalist? For when we are witness to that “split second” moment caught on film, it is forever documented. With the camera being in our hands as early as the 1800s, we are able to step back in time and literally spy upon our days-gone-by; often its effect has the ability to embellish or diminish our perception of the past.

Early photographers like their counterpart the early journalists and writers often became the champions of the disenfranchised; describing and photographing parts of society that were often ignored, brushed aside, or even invisible to the public who were not in immediate contact of those less fortunate.

And so, today’s blog introduces the esteemed thinker: Jacob A. Riis (1849-1914) social reformer, writer, and photographer that brought to light the plight of the city’s poor. Riis himself was an immigrant that arrived in New York City in 1870 from Denmark. Having taken many different jobs, he became a police report and began to document the slums of New York City. Through his writings and photography he became a change agent, fighting for reform, for better housing, sanitation, care for the poor, and especially the children. He believed that all men who were moral citizens, regardless of economic status, should have an opportunity to better their lives and break free from poverty. His book of 1890, How the Other Half Lives created public uproar and intitiated a movement for change.

huddle riis From one of his many works titled, The Battle of the Slum, we cannot help but be moved by his firsthand account. Here is Mr. Riis in his own words….

“… The slum is as old as civilization. Civilization implies a race, to get ahead. In a race there are usually some who for one cause or another cannot keep up, or are thrust out from among their fellows. They fall behind, and when they have been left far in the rear they lose hope and ambition, and give up. Thenceforward, if left to their own resources, they are the victims, not the masters, of their environment; and it is a bad master. They drag one another always farther down. The bad environment becomes the heredity of the next generation. Then, given the crowd, you have the slum ready-made…”

“…High rents, slack work, and low wages go hand in hand in the tenements as promoters of overcrowding. The rent is always one fourth of the family income, often more. The fierce competition for a bare living cuts down wages; and when loss of work is added, the only thing left is to take in lodgers to meet the landlord’s claim. The midnight visit of the sanitary policeman discloses a state of affairs against which he feels himself helpless. He has his standard: 400 cubic feet of air space for each adult sleeper, 200 for a child. That in itself is a concession to the practical necessities of the case. The original demand was for 600 feet. But of 28,000 and odd tenants canvassed in New York, in the slumming investigation prosecuted by the general government in 1894, 17,047 were found to have less than 400 feet, and of these 5526 slept in unventilated rooms with no windows. No more such rooms have been added since; but there has come that which is worse…”

housing riis

Esteemed thinker: Abraham Lincoln

gettysburg 150 years ago beginning July 1 to July 3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg took place in Adams County, Pennsylvania. For three hot and treacherous days this most famous and most important Civil War Battle occurred; and although it started out as a skirmish, its fierce battles ended with 160,000 Americans involved and nearly one-third of the forces engaged resulted in casualties. Noted as the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, it was also the force behind the immortal speech of President Lincoln.

On Nov. 19th, 1863 President Lincoln went to the battlefield to dedicate its “hollow ground” as a military cemetery, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, whereupon he delivered his monumental Gettysburg Address. This brief speech of only 272 words still rings as loudly and as eloquently today; for the vision he saw for America, his vision of a new birth of freedom continues to resonate… and the famous phrase ”government of the people, by the people, for the people” demonstrates his democratic principles. His challenge to the American people a century and a half ago continues to be an inspiration; holding true “that all men are created equal”, wherever they may reside.

So in remembrance of this somber occasion I introduce or reintroduce to you to the timeless words of the 16th president of the United States, my hero, the esteemed thinker: Abraham Lincoln. I wish that my blog gives you a moment’s pause, to reawaken your memory with these most famous words. Here is President Lincoln….

Dedication gettysburg Gettysburg, Pa. November 1863. Dedication of Gettysburg battlefield

GETTYSBURG ADDRESS” (19 NOVEMBER 1863)
[1] Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

[2] Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

[3] But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate-we can not consecrate-we can not hallow-this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

blue and grey and tent gettysburg