Art of the Day

13 Sep

The Flatiron. by Edward Steichen (1879-1973). Gum bichromate over platinum print, 1904. Belongs to the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Notes from metmuseum.org:

Steichen added color to the platinum print that forms the foundation of this photograph by using layers of pigment suspended in a light-sensitive solution of gum arabic and potassium bichromate.  Together with two variant prints in other colors, also in the Museum’s collection, “The Flatiron” is the quintessential chromatic study of twilight.  Clearly indebted in its composition to the Japanese woodcuts that were in vogue at the turn of the century and in its coloristic effect to the “Nocturnes” of Whistler, this picture is a prime example of the conscious effort of photographers in the circle of Alfred Stieglitz to assert the artistic potential of their medium.

Steichen and Stieglitz selected this photograph for inclusion in the “International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography” held at the Albright Art Gallery (now the Albright-Knox Art Gallery) in Buffalo, New York, in 1910.  The exhibition of six hundred photographs represented the capstone of Stieglitz’s efforts to promote Pictorialist photography as a fine art.

My comments:

Unfortunately, it’s been such a long time since I posted here, which I really regret. But I’ve been extremely busy and also uninspired lately. With the school year starting again, I’m feeling much more inclined to get back into posting here. If you look at my “columns for the Phoenix page,” you’ll see a column on PAFA’s Jennifer Bartlett show that was just published this week.

I came across this photograph on the Met’s facebook page, and it immediately struck me with its dramatic beauty. It really opens up your eyes to the many shades of black that exist, and that it is more than the absence of color. While the faceless silhouettes that we see in the middle ground of the canvas are kind of ominous, the image is too stunning with all of the shapes and colors and the composition to let that eerie quality get in the way.

As it says in the notes from metmuseum.org, Edward Steichen was focused on making photography an art form rather than merely a method for visual documentary, and he certainly succeeded with this particular photograph. Perhaps it is the online quality of the image, but here it certainly looks like a painting. But besides the painterly texture of the work, it also looks like a painting precisely because of the dynamic, complicated composition that does more than keep a visual record of a particular place in time. Here we are not just seeing the Flatiron building in Manhattan: instead we are seeing the interaction of streetlights on the river in twilight in New York, and how the melancholy light that pervades this unique time of day affects the visual presentation of objects.

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