My Stieglitz Shot

The things we do to get a good picture…

One of the first very important figures to passionately endorse photography as an art form was Alfred Stieglitz, perhaps even better known as being for a time the husband of Georgia O’Keefe.

Alfred Stieglitz claimed that he stood for 3 hours in a storm on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1893 waiting for everything to come together so he could take this picture (and for those of you keeping score this concept predates Henri Cartier-Bresson‘s “decisive moment” by a few decades at least).


It really is a remarkable photograph, especially given that the technology barely, and I mean barely, allowed for this much clarity in a live action shot under what was obviously very subdued lighting and difficult conditions.

But apparently Stieglitz cropped the image from this generally considered lesser image.


Perhaps the main problem was that the workers shoveling snow on either side of the street drew the eye and the mind elsewhere. Even those columns on the right seem significant in this view. I like to think that it was this image that basically started the whole crop/don’t crop debate within photography because the full version met with aversive criticism and Stieglitz eventually decided to crop it to the image we now know best. But that debate may have started much earlier. The basic argument was that the photographer, to be considered a real artist, must only print what his/her eye saw in the viewfinder. In today’s digital world where we have awesome software such as Photoshop the point is well taken that photography has always been more of a darkroom/computer art form than just some hopelessly idealistic point and shoot phenomena…yes, anyone can take a great photograph, but let’s see you do that 10 more times…

So last week on a rainy day, after a couple of decades of having Stieglitz’s picture on my mind, I am walking in the pouring rain in front of Concordia University downtown and I stop because I feel that I am seeing my opportunity to do a 21st century version of Stieglitz’s picture even if there is no snow or horses, well, the point would be that we have since had cars, lots of them.


So I spent about 15 minutes leaning against a lamppost in the rain and this was the best I could do.  A Postarctica analogy? A metaphor of how it is all still a matter of personal choice?  Lots of place to go…I don’t usually hang out in snowstorms yet who knew I would find a rainy day as an equivalent? It’s all in the sky/background.


Here is the full image.


You know what? I think I prefer the larger image, go figure.



5 responses to “My Stieglitz Shot

  1. You know what, Steiglitz is right ! Less is better, one subject one photograph. All is in the impact !

  2. While both pictures are about the weather and street, to my eye Stieglitz tells a story of the single vehicle – its driver and horses. So the cropping removes distractions and tells a powerful story. I feel the neath photograph is not about the pedestrian, it is about the the light, the time-of-day, and the reflections on the street. I like the red tail-lights contrasted with the reflections of the blue-green signs that frame the pedestrian. Cropped, the pedestrian seems to be looking at those tail lights. In this I’ve cropped, removed the pole from the pedestrian’s head, and the distracting bike wheel to retain the curve of the curb. Just a reflection of mine… thanks for this post.

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