Clouds: Alfred Stieglitz' Equivalents

I've been looking at the clouds this week as seen through the eyes of Alfred Stielglitz, the American photographer largely responsible for promoting photography as Art in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. In 1922, Stieglitz departed from making portraits of people and cities and began photographing clouds. His goal was to put his feelings into an abstract form. His stark, black-and-white photographs were  presented as Music: A Sequence of Ten Cloud Photographs, then Songs of the Sky, and then Equivalents. The earlier photographs included some reference point--a horizon line, bit of landscape, or trees. Later, the photographs are more abstract with no reference points whatsoever; in many cases the photographs have been rotated so that the viewer isn't sure where the horizon might be.

Stieglitz wrote that "I have a vision of life and I try to find equivalents for it." In good times and bad, he photographed clouds to express his emotional states. He felt that his cloud photographs had the power to transport viewers into the same emotional state he was in when he made the photograph. I am not sure I buy this, but I am glad somebody was thinking this way. I am now researching his writings and correspondence to find out where he describes the emotions his cloud photographs captured. It seems to me that a bright white cumulus cloud in a blue sky captures a very different emotion than a that same cloud and sky captured on film, printed in black-and-white or sepia tones, and frequently underexposed (either intentionally or because of technical challenges of the day). I am curious to learn more about Stieglit'z camera (see the bulky contraption in the video below) and to what extent he manipulated his cloud photographs during the printing process.

I first learned about Stieglitz' clouds after a visit to the Seattle Art Museum where I saw Georgia O'Keeffe's small but exuberant painting of clouds called A Celebration. This painting was completed in 1924, the year O'Keeffe and Stieglitz were married and, according to one O'Keeffe biographer, after a particularly blissful ten weeks with Stieglitz. Naturally, I became curious about their relationship and their relationship to clouds, especially since O'Keeffe's painting is joyous and Stieglitz' photographs are not (at least to me). And, because Stieglitz is know primarily for his well-known photographs of O'Keeffe's face, hands, and breasts...I thought the story of their cloud work would be fascinating.

Here is a two-minute video clip about Stieglitz and his cloud photography: Stieglitz' Clouds.

Happy Cloudspotting 2010!