Equivalents (clouds and smoke 1)

Alfred Steiglitz’s Equivalents are described as the first and most influential  photographs with genuine abstraction as the sole aim.

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Equivalent, 1926 Alfred Stieglitz (MetMA – NYC)

The equivalents were designed by Stieglitz:

“to hold a moment, how to record something so completely, that all who see [the picture of it] will relive an equivalent of what has been expressed.”

Minor White, American photographer, teacher and writer defined this as a set of principles:

‘At one level, the graphic level, the word “Equivalence” pertains to the photograph itself, the visible foundations of any potential visual experience with the photograph itself…….At the next level the word “Equivalence” relates to what goes on in the viewer’s mind as he looks at a photograph that arouses in him a special sense of correspondence to something that he knows about himself. At a third level the word “Equivalence” refers to the inner experience a person has while he is remembering his mental image after the photograph in question is not in sight. The remembered image also pertains to Equivalence only when a certain feeling of correspondence is present.’ 

(Equivalence: The Perennial Trend – Minor White, PSA Journal, Vol. 29, No. 7, pp. 17-21, 1963)
(Images from: The Phillips Collection website)

Steiglitz chose to make his Equivalents over a long period of time, selecting different groups in different selections to display in different orders and even orientations, but always presented as a series. They are also a triumph of technique, demonstrating Steilitz’s determination to overcome the limitations of early film to photograph what he had initially described as unphotographable.  Perhaps even more significant was Stieglitz’s understanding that the photograph he presented would now start to be seen as beyond depiction or pure representation.

…….some “Pictorial photographers” when they came to the exhibition seemed totally blind to the cloud pictures. My photographs look like photographs—and in their eyes they therefore can’t be art. As if they had the slightest idea of art or photography— or any idea of life. My aim is increasingly to make my photographs look as much like photographs that unless one has eyes and sees, they won’t be seen—and still everyone will never forget them having once looked at them. I wonder if that is clear.

(How I Came to Photograph Clouds -Alfred Steiglitz, The Amateur Photographer & Photography, Vol. 56, No. 1819, p. 255, 1923)

 

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