The Steins were not the only ones with an eye for modern art. The photographer Alfred Stieglitz, after hearing Leo Stein lecture on Picasso, showed the artist’s work in America. In Stieglitz and His Artists (Yale Univ., $65), Lisa Mintz Messinger presents work by European and American artists whose talent Stieglitz was among the first on this side of the Atlantic to recognize; he showed them in his Gallery 291 and publicized them in his short-lived magazine, Camera Work. Messinger’s catalog pairs paintings with portraits of the artists, and accompanying text describes their relationships with Stieglitz.
Stieglitz’s most famous relationship was with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. My Faraway One (Yale Univ., $39.95), edited by Sarah Greenough, lets the pair tell their own story—or at least the first part of it, reproducing examples of their correspondence from 1915 to 1933 (Stieglitz died in 1946). Presenting some 650 out of 5,000 extant letters, this collection documents a life-long attachment that began as a mutual appreciation for each other’s work, grew into a love affair, a marriage, a divorce, and a rekindling of affection. It gives fascinating insight into the lives of two of the 20thcentury’s most creative people.
What do you see when you look at a photograph? In his fascinating study of the act of looking, the filmmaker and writer Errol Morris considers a half-dozen images and questions the prevailing view “that photographs provide a magic path to the truth.” Rather, Morris treats each picture as a “mystery,” and shows that a large part of what we get out of one depends on the assumptions—about subject, context, photographer’s intention—we bring to it, that in fact Believing is Seeing (Penguin Press, $40). Morris is an intrepid detective, even traveling to the Crimea to see the site of an 1855 war photo by James Fenton. He similarly investigates the identity of the hooded man in an Abu Ghraib image, talks to a photographer who covered the 2006 Israeli attacks on Lebanon, tracks down the descendents of a dead Civil War soldier identified only by the ambertype of three children he had in his pocket. The book becomes a collection of evidence, including maps, diagrams, doctored images, along with letters and interviews. Ultimately, Morris’s questions overshadow any answers. Oh, and the truth? In photos that’s “an elusive notion. There may not be any such thing.”