Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye, a Revealing Look at “The Father of Modern Photography”

More than any­one else, Alfred Stieglitz helped raise the sta­tus of pho­tog­ra­phy to the lev­el of art. As a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, pub­lish­er and gallery own­er, Stieglitz was a key fig­ure in the birth of Amer­i­can mod­ernism. His own sta­tus as an arbiter of taste in pho­tog­ra­phy was bol­stered by his uncan­ny knack for quick­ly rec­og­niz­ing the great­ness of artists work­ing in oth­er media. He was the first gallery own­er in Amer­i­ca to exhib­it Picas­so, Matisse, Bran­cusi and oth­er great fig­ures in mod­ern art. As the nar­ra­tor of this fas­ci­nat­ing 1999 doc­u­men­tary puts it, Stieglitz opened the eyes of Amer­i­ca to the 20th cen­tu­ry.

Alfred Stieglitz: The Elo­quent Eye was direct­ed by Per­ry Miller Ada­to for the PBS Amer­i­can Mas­ters series, and builds on his ear­li­er doc­u­men­tary work on Stieglitz’s wid­ow, the painter Geor­gia O’Keefe.

Hav­ing shot many reels of film show­ing O’Keefe talk­ing about Stieglitz, Ada­to was a nat­ur­al choice to direct a full-length doc­u­men­tary on Stieglitz. As he told PBS in an inter­view:

We knew we had an ace up our sleeve–unique, invalu­able, nev­er-seen film footage of Geor­gia O’Ke­effe speak­ing about Alfred Stieglitz. In 1980, at the request of O’Ke­effe her­self, I had flown to New Mex­i­co with a small film crew and inter­viewed the artist at great length about Stieglitz.. On cam­era in her home, her gar­den and her stu­dio, she speaks frankly and inti­mate­ly, her rem­i­nis­cences salt­ed with her dry humor. O’Ke­effe talks about Alfred Stieglitz–the stu­dent, the man, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er, the pio­neer in the intro­duc­tion of avant-garde Euro­pean art to Amer­i­ca, the defend­er of strug­gling young Amer­i­can mod­ern artists; her own views on the artists of the famed “Stieglitz cir­cle” and of their life togeth­er. This film, rare dur­ing her life­time, became unique after her death in 1986. The 1980 project for a film about Stieglitz using this footage was nev­er real­ized. For 19 long years, eight large flat reels of 16mm film (work-print and synced mag track) lay buried in the stor­age room of my house in West­port, CT. Buried, but not entire­ly for­got­ten.

The doc­u­men­tary is round­ed out by inter­views with lead­ing Stieglitz schol­ars and muse­um cura­tors. Ada­to told PBS he was con­fi­dent the film would help reawak­en inter­est in Stieglitz, whose fame in recent decades has been over­shad­owed by that of O’Keefe. “It will help to restore his right­ful place in the his­to­ry of 20th cen­tu­ry art and cul­ture,” he said. “We hope that the pro­gram will also reveal Stieglitz as a charis­mat­ic, com­plex and fas­ci­nat­ing indi­vid­ual ‘whose ide­al­ism wres­tled with his human frail­ties.’ ”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Geor­gia O’Keeffe at 92

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Comments (3)
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  • Robert says:

    Some of the worst film work I’ve ever seen. There is no rea­son for all this pan­ning in and out of frames. This is hor­ri­ble and a dis­ser­vice to view­ers and the subject,Alfred Stieglitz. I could­n’t watch this past six min­utes. The stu­dio that filmed this needs to be closed. A great sub­ject ruined by an inept pro­duc­er.

  • Gina says:

    Dear Robert, I loved this film, the doc­u­men­ta­tion of his progress and devel­op­ment of his work, intu­ition and effect on the adop­tion of mod­ern art. And this is what art is about — some peo­ple love it , some reject it — it is a very per­son­al, indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ence!

  • Thomas McKibbin says:

    I found this film very infor­ma­tive and rather com­pre­hen­sive as well. Thank you for havng it here.

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