Reviewed April 2019
Tracy Stuber, Kress Interpretive Fellow, George Eastman Museum, and PhD Candidate, University of Rochester
The Art Institute of Chicago created The Alfred Stieglitz Collection in conjunction with the 2015-2016 exhibition Alfred Stieglitz and the Nineteenth Century. Today users are likely to access the resource via the museum’s Online Collection, where entries for each of the 244 photographs gifted by Georgia O’Keeffe include directive text inviting users to “please visit the website” for more information. Built on Wordpress, the resource is free to access and responsive, though the navigation suffers slightly on smaller screens.
Overall, the Alfred Stieglitz Collection is impressively comprehensive, engaging, and well-designed. The neatly organized layout of each object page begins with an image carousel with high-resolution images of the object’s recto, verso, and mat when present. Enlarged via a lightbox, these images provide access to photographic features typically hidden in exhibition and visible only in the physical archive. When relevant, the carousel also includes reproductions from the journals Camera Work and Camera Notes, installation views from during Stieglitz’s lifetime, and photomicrographs and photographs documenting examinations using varied lighting (UV, infrared) and magnification. Below the carousel, additional information on each object expands on these material and contextual themes, deftly drawing on both in-house analysis and materials from other institutions. This information includes “Object Research” (in-depth material analysis and downloadable high-resolution images), “Key Sources” (links to digitized catalogues and publications from other collections), and “In Other Stieglitz Collections” (links to prints made from the same negative owned by other museums). This research is clearly directed at scholars who will appreciate downloadable resources like PDFs and the further avenues for inquiries offered by other institutions. The resource feels very comprehensive even though some objects received closer analysis than others.
The site’s navigation is generally clear and usable, but there is room for improvement in terms of integration. The resource’s best feature is a well-written glossary of Artists, Processes, Galleries, Journals, Series, and Themes in the collection. These categories also appears as filters for the gallery on the website’s homepage that let users instantly create alternative groupings of photographs. However, the two are not integrated, and since the Glossary entries also include galleries, the homepage feature feels somewhat redundant. Furthermore, users cannot jump directly from one Object Page to another and must go through an intervening page, leading to awkward navigational paths that work against a desirable flow. This architecture does not limit the usefulness of the resource, but it does signal an unrealized potential for connectivity and interactivity. Though outside the scope of the Art Institute’s Stieglitz Collection, a comparable project like MoMA’s Object:Photo offers some models for how this well-researched resource could be further developed to provide an even more cohesive sense of Stieglitz’s sphere of influence.
Finally, in comparison to many online collections that more or less preserve the uninspiring default design of their platforms, the site’s unified design scheme complements both the time period when Stieglitz worked and his goals as a champion of photography as a fine art. Unfortunately, some fonts are difficult if almost impossible to read because they are too small, too light, or both. Revisiting these design choices would ensure that this comprehensive resource is accessible and can continue to enhance users’ understanding of Stieglitz’s legacy.