In 1922, Alfred Stieglitz read a commentary on his photography by Waldo Frank. In this commentary, Frank suggested that the strength of Stieglitz’s photographs was in the power of the individuals he photographed, rather than in his own technical ability. Outraged, Stieglitz began photographing clouds, something everyone could see but no one could manipulate—his way of proving his artistic prowess. This series was called Equivalents.
In present day, it’s difficult to imagine the impact of this series. At the time, photography was still fairly new: barely a century old, it had undergone many technological advancements, but few artistic ones, as the art world struggled to see photography as an artistic medium in its own right. The series Equivalents is recognized as some of the first completely abstract fine-art photography. Instead of photographing a specific subject, Stieglitz freed the subject—clouds—from literality, opening up the work to interpretation.
Some pieces in the Equivalents series featured more than clouds, or didn’t include clouds at all. For example, there are no clouds in Rain Drops (alternatively titled Equivalent (Rain drops on grass, Lake George), 1927). Instead, this image focuses on the patterns of shape and light created by long stalks of grass covered in water droplets. Because there is no other object in the frame to provide context or reference, the image pushes toward total abstraction. Its abstraction is grounded in the organic and natural.
Describing his fondness for the Adirondack Mountain area of Lake George, New York—the location of his summer home—Stieglitz said “Lake George is in my blood, the trees and lake and hills and sky”. Rain Drops was not the first time Stieglitz photographed his natural surroundings at Lake George, and it wouldn’t be the last time this area inspired him.
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