The Terminal


Alfred Stieglitz, The Terminal, 1893. Photogravure. Art Acquisition Fund 1990-3-1
Alfred Stieglitz, The Terminal, 1893. Photogravure. Art Acquisition Fund 1990-3-1
Alfred Stieglitz

4.75 x 6.25 inches

On his return to New York City in 1890 after living and studying in Germany for nine years, Alfred Stieglitz sensed a "spiritual emptiness" that left America lagging behind Europe in its cultural and artistic vitality.

Steiglitz shot The Terminal shortly after his arrival, and it embodies his loneliness in this familiar yet foreign country. He later remarked that:

The New York that I had come back to was not my old New York. I used to wander around the streets disconsolately, until one night during a blizzard, I happened to see a man watering a couple of steaming horse-car horses, and I thought, "well, there at any rate is the human touch." That made me feel much better.

The Terminal is an early example of the expressive pictorialist style Stieglitz promoted in the United States. The smoky, romantic atmosphere created by the horses' warm breath mixing with the cool air transforms the ordinary urban scene at the southern end of the Harlem streetcar line. Stieglitz shows his technical proficiency in the use of a hand-held camera, achieving great clarity of detail despite the challenging photographic conditions.

Stieglitz vehemently believed in photography as a fine art and in 1902 organized the Photo-Secession group as a way of raising the medium's artistic standards. In 1905, he established the elite gallery "291," where photographs were framed and displayed like paintings, and founded and edited the quarterly publication Camera Work (1902–17). The Terminal was published in the October 1911 issue and is one of Stieglitz's best-known works. 

Text by Joyce M. Kuechler, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008