The Steerage
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Alfred Stieglitz
American, 1907
13 3/16 x 10 3/8 in.

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There were men, women and children on the lower level of the steerage....The scene fascinated me: A round straw hat; the funnel leaning left, the stairway leaning right; the white drawbridge, its railings made of chain; white suspenders crossed on the back of a man below; circular iron machinery; a mast that cut into the sky, completing a triangle. I stood spellbound for a while. I saw shapes related to one another -- a picture of shapes, and underlying it, a new vision that held me...

Twenty-five years after making this photograph, Alfred Stieglitz recalled the moment in vivid detail, no doubt aided by the information provided within the frame. He had wandered down from the first-class deck to survey the jumbled scene of teeming passengers in the steerage, or economy class, section, which contrasted sharply with "the mob called the 'rich'" that he had left behind. Stieglitz's compressed composition emphasized the closeness of space and bustling conditions in the steamer's lower-level accommodations.