Photography and the American Dream

Alfred Stieglitz, Going Home by Ferry, New York City, silver print, 1902; printed 1920s. Estimate: $50,000 to 75,000.

The evocative photographs in the Stephen L. White Photograph Collection, at auction March 23rd, were featured in an exhibit at Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum in 2001, shortly after September 11, 2001.

Andreas Bluehm, the museum's curator, wrote of these photographs: "Their compelling 'otherness,' the sense of both relationship and difference, the confirmation and almost simultaneous repudiation of my European prejudices—all this fascinated the art historian in me." Read More...

Photography is, perhaps, the most democratic of art forms, and the perfect representational vehicle to capture this rich visual narrative. How Americans visualize and manifest the American Dream is complex, encompassing a diverse range of imagery. A cyanotype of an immigrant child wrapped in an American flag, patriotic images of parades or family photograph albums utilizing the first Kodak camera are a reflection of the populist impulse associated with photography. Prints by well-known masters Alfred Stieglitz, Lewis W. Hine, Edward S. Curtis, Imogen Cunningham, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, and Robert Rauschenberg convey the broad range of personal experience of distinct styles and techniques.

The American Dream was a fairly simple one during the period covered by these photographs. Immigrants fled grinding poverty in Europe, drawn by the prospect of political freedom, factory jobs, and cheap frontier land. This dream has never been a guarantee, but continues to be an inspiration. These American historical photographs—ranging from the Wild West to the New York City skyline—tell that unique story.

Labels: , , , , ,