• Emailarticle
  • Writecomment

Pointing Views

   The father of modern photography, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), was a driving force in art during the first half of the 20th century. Throughout his career, Stieglitz focused on the role of photography in the modern world. Stieglitz believed that photographs of ordinary subjects could have permanent value as art. Photographer, gallery dealer, writer, editor, publisher and collector, Stieglitz was committed to promoting photography as a form of fine art.
  Stieglitz discovered photography as a student and switched from mechanical engineering to photochemistry. He began taking photographs with cameras that required the use of tripods, and around the year 1893 he obtained his first hand-held camera, a Folmer and Schwing 4×5 plate film camera. The freedom achieved with his new camera pioneered startling black and white images including “Winter on Fifth Avenue, New York” (1893), captured after Stieglitz stood for three hours in a snowstorm, waiting for the right moment of light and balance. The new photographs expressed modern artistic identity and a personal relationship with the city of New York.
     During the second half of the 20th century, it was a man named John Szarkowski (1925-2007) who had given photography the status of fine art. Born in Ashland, Wisconsin, Szarkowski engaged in photography, trout fishing, and clarinet while he was a high school student, and later, he studied art history in college and he played second-chair clarinet for the Madison Symphony Orchestra. As a young artist in the early 1950s, Szarkowski photographed buildings designed by Chicago architect Louis Sullivan.
     In the early 1960s, in New York, John Szarkowski embarked on a curatorial path in photography. He saw the medium as a fine art form and as curator at the Museum of Modern Art wrote pioneering essays and books, and headed momentous exhibitions. In 1967, his groundbreaking exhibition entitled “New Documents” at the Museum of Modern Art showed the works of street photographers Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. The exhibition established that black-and-white photos of the ordinary, with snapshot-like appearance, were photography’s new direction.
     In the early 1980s Szarkowski wrote: “One might compare the art of photography to the act of pointing…The talented practitioner of the new discipline would perform with a special grace, sense of timing, narrative sweep, and wit, thus endowing the act not merely with intelligence, but with that quality of formal rigor that identifies a work of art, so that we would be uncertain, when remembering the adventure of the tour, how much our pleasure and sense of enlargement had come from the things pointed to and how much from a pattern created by the pointer.” (from “John Szarkowski, Curator of Photography, Dies at 81,” by Philip Gefter, July 9, 2007, New York Times)
     Russell Bowman Art Advisory on west Superior Street is currently showing an exhibition of recently discovered works by Chicago-based street photographer Vivian Maier (1926-2009).   The obscure photographer—whose works were found in abandoned storage lockers—was employed as a nanny on the North Shore from the mid-1950s. Born in New York, raised in France and the United States, Maier’s newly discovered body of work is pointing and directing viewers into the depth of humanity. Her shots express a human quality and intimacy, revealing grace in the human condition. The gallery is showing vintage and contemporary prints including lifetime prints of images from the artist’s stay in New York from 1951-1955 and prints depicting scenes from Chicago and others cities, 1959-1971.
Chicago master gelatin silver printer Ron Gordon and Sandy Steinbrecher have printed the contemporary series from the artist’s negatives. The photographs in the exhibition are from the Jeffrey Goldstein collection. “Vivian Maier, Photographer” is closing on June 18, and images can be viewed digitally on www.vivianmaierprints.com.

Photo: Vivian Maier, Untitled, 1955, Silver gelatin print, printed 2011 Edition of 15, 11-5/16 x 15-15/16 inches, From the Jeffrey Goldstein collection

Published: June 13, 2011
Issue: Summer 2011


Chicago Photographers Love This Article!
This was a really beautifully written article. I really enjoyed reading it. As a children's photographer in Chicago I could relate to it in so many ways. I agree with Stieglitz, in that photography should be considered a fine art. People don't understand the amount of time, care and love that go into creating that perfect image (for me, of course, it's about creating that perfect emotional moment as ababy photographer in Chicago). Some day, I'm hoping to feature Maier's images in myfamily photographer studio.
Bshalimar, Mar-06-2015