Stieglitz was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1881 Alfred’s father sold his companyand moved his family to Europe for the next several years. The most important reason was that he believed his son could get a better education in Germany. Alfred Stieglitz enrolled in the Realgymnasium (middle school) in Karlsruhe. His parents, along with his mother’s sister Rosa Werner, traveled around Europe going to museums, spas and theaters. Alfred Stieglitz was reportedly entranced by the thought of his father being cared for and pampered by two different women. The next year, Stieglitz began studying mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin. He received a enormous allowance and spent much of his time going around the city in search of the same type of intellectual discussions he enjoyed back home. By chance he enrolled in a chemistry class taught by Hermann Wilhelm Vogel, who was an important scientist and researcher in the then developing field of photography. In Vogel, Stieglitz found both the academic challenge he needed and an outlet for his growing artistic and cultural interests. At the same time he met German artists Adolf von Menzel and Wilhelm Hasemann, both of whom introduced him to the idea of making art directly from nature. He bought his first camera and traveled through the European countryside, taking many photographs of landscapes and peasants in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
In 1884 his parents returned to America, but Stieglitz remained in Germany for the rest of the decade. During this time Stieglitz began to collect the first books of what would become a very large library on photography and photographers in Europe and the U.S. In 1887 he wrote his very first article, “A Word or Two about Amateur Photography in Germany”, for the new magazine The Amateur Photographer. By 1890 Stieglitz already considered himself an artist with a camera, and he refused to sell his photographs or seek employment doing anything else. His father, who was ever doting on his first-born son, helped Stieglitz by buying out a small photography business where he could indulge in his interests and perhaps earn a living on his own. Stieglitz’s parents began pressuring him to settle down and get married. For several years he had known Emmeline Obermeyer, who was the sister of his close friend and business associate Joe Obermeyer. On 16 November 1893, when she turned twenty and Stieglitz was twenty-nine, they married in New York City.
Stieglitz later wrote that he did not love Emmy, as she was known, when they were first married and that their marriage was not consummated for at least a year. In January 1916, Stieglitz was shown a portfolio of drawings by a young artist named Georgia O’Keeffe. By the summer of 1917 he and O’Keeffe were writing each other “their most private and complicated thoughts”,and it was clear that something very intense was developing. The year 1917 marked the end of an era in Stieglitz’s life and the beginning of another. In part because of changing aesthetics, the changing times brought on by the war and because of his growing relationship with O’Keeffe, he no longer had the interest or the resources to continue what he had been doing for the past decade. Within the period of a few months, he disbanded what was left of the Photo-Secession, ceased publishing Camera Work and closed the doors of 291. It was also clear to him that his marriage to Emmy was over. He had finally found “his twin”, and nothing would stand in his way of the relationship he had wanted all of his life. One of the most important things that O’Keeffe provided for Stieglitz was the muse he had always wanted. He photographed O’Keeffe obsessively between 1918 and 1925 in what was the most prolific period in his entire life. During this period he produced more than 350 mounted prints of O’Keeffe that portrayed a wide range of her character, moods and beauty. In the summer of 1946 Stieglitz suffered a fatal stroke.
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