JAIC 1995, Volume 34, Number 1, Article 1 (pp. 1 to 10)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1995, Volume 34, Number 1, Article 1 (pp. 1 to 10)




Alfred Stieglitz began photographing in 1883 as a student in Berlin, where he quickly developed a fondness for the British-made platinum papers. Years later, he claimed to have used platinum “exclusively for the first 35 years of [his] career” (Stieglitz 1934), but this claim is not entirely correct. His first Berlin student pictures were printed on silver gelatin paper, and he often made enlarged carbon prints for exhibition in the photographic salons at the turn of the century. As a partner in the Photochrome Engraving Company in New York City in the 1890s, he learned the subtleties of the photogravure process, which he would later use to make masterful gravure prints for exhibition and for Camera Work. He also made many lantern slides and experimented with other techniques that were popular at the time, such as gum bichromate (Thompson 1993).

Stieglitz's technical curiosity and reputation for problem solving are well documented. He published many notes and articles in the photographic journals of his day, describing a variety of processes and procedures (Greenough 1973). But the platinum and palladium process most attracted Stieglitz and held his loyalty for nearly 40 years. He wrote (Stieglitz [1898] 1905, 122):

Of all the modern printing processes at the command of the photographer, whether amateur or professional, none deserves to be more popular than the platinum. The simplicity of manipulation, combined with the beauty of the results obtained with it, is enough to recommend it to every photographer. And above all, the prints produced by this method are as permanent as the paper which supports the image.

From 1917, the year that he closed his 291 gallery and began to photograph Georgia O'-Keeffe, until the mid-1920s, Stieglitz explored the capabilities and limitations of the palladium process without regard to common practice or manufacturer's instructions. He wrote to fellow photographer Paul Strand of making “all sorts of experiments” to evaluate the “elasticity” of palladium (quoted in Greenough 1992, 9). He sometimes made close to 100 prints of a given image in order to get one he considered “A1.”

Stieglitz had continued to print certain images in silver throughout this period, and when he began in earnest to photograph clouds, his famous Equivalents, in the early 1920s, he moved away from the platinum and palladium process (Bry 1965). Nearly all of his sky pictures and portraits made after 1923 are silver gelatin prints. In fact, even when he found 22 old negatives in his attic in Lake George in 1934 and reprinted them for a show at his gallery An American Place, he did so with commercially available silver gelatin paper. Due primarily to his declining health, he stopped photographing in 1937, and made his last few prints in 1939.

Copyright � 1995 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works