Bring back some good or bad memories


July 17, 2016

The Terminal, New York, 1893

“From 1893 to 1895 I often walked the streets of New York downtown, near the East River, taking my hand camera with me. . . . [One day] I found myself in front of the old Post Office. . . . It was extremely cold. Snow lay on the ground. A driver in a rubber coat was watering his steaming car horses.” – Alred Stieglitz

(Photo by Alred Stieglitz, via Getty Images)

Photographer Alred Stieglitz took this picture using a small 4 x 5 camera, an instrument not considered at the time to be worthy of artistic photography. Unlike the unwieldy 8 x 10 view camera (which required a tripod), this camera gave Stieglitz greater freedom and mobility to roam the city and respond quickly to the ever-changing street life around him.

Though many of Alfred Stieglitz’s early photographs relied heavily upon atmosphere to mute the harshness of urban life, he romanticized nothing in this image. At the southern end of the Harlem streetcar line that traveled up and down Fifth Avenue, he simply captured a streetcar driver watering his horses in front of the old Post Office.

The Terminal predicts by over a decade the radical transformation of the medium from painterly prints of rarified subjects to what the critic Sadakichi Hartmann dubbed “straight photography.” This new photography would take as its subject matter the quotidian aspects of modern urban life, using only techniques that are unique to the medium. At the same time, in this and other photographs he made around the turn of the century, Stieglitz used natural elements such as smoke, rain, and snow to soften and unify the image into a pictorially pleasing synthesis.


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