Photographs by Albert Steiner and Works on Paper by Alberto Giacometti, Augusto Giacometti, Giovanni Giacometti, Helmut Federle, Ferdinand Hodler and Giovanni Segantini
The exhibition Swiss Mountainscapes focuses on the photographic works of Albert Steiner and the relationship of his photographs to landscape paintings by the circle of painters he knew, influenced, or was influenced by: Alberto Giacometti, Augusto Giacometti, Giovanni Giacometti, Helmut Federle, Ferdinand Hodler and Giovanni Segantini.
Albert Steiner (1877-1965) spent decades photographing the dramatic light and views of the Grisons Mountains, an area known as the Engadine in Switzerland. With the tradition of landscape painting influencing him, Steiner created photographic works that went beyond the accepted documentary use of photography during the period, and as a result, he played a significant role in the legitimization of the relatively young medium as an artform. Steiner was known as an accomplished climber, endlessly scouring the mountains for the best views to photograph. When found, he would diligently compose and patiently wait hours for the right light and atmosphere.
In 1900, contemplating his work, Steiner wrote in his diary entitled Erlebtes und Gedachtes (Experiences and Thoughts), “Stick to the sublime grandeur of the mountains.” This comment relates to the fact that much of his work, and the work of the Engadine painters, are rooted in German Romantic landscape painting. Through compositional choices, Steiner and his circle constantly refer to the enduring magnitude and power of nature juxtaposed with the transient existence of mankind. While Steiner distanced his work from any stylistic categorization, it has been related to Pictorialism and the then flourishing modern movement Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), which emphasized materiality, form and structure. Furthermore, one must also consider the photographic influences on Steiner, which may have been early tourism images and reportage. Despite the connections of his work with various movements and influences in both painting and photography, Steiner’s legacy and influence is yet to be defined within the history of photography.