News

Student's Paper on Stieglitz Photography Will Appear in 'Collegiate Journal of Art'

by Bill Giduz
Adrian Muoio-Stieglitz article

A paper written by rising senior art history major Adrian Muoio for an independent study course has been accepted for publication in the Collegiate Journal of Art.

Muoio's course concerned the history of photography through 1970, and he wrote his final paper on the Equivalents Series by photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz.

Muoio's interest in art grew out of the "Survey of Western Art" course that he took as a first year student from Professor of Art Larry Ligo. Muoio had always been interested in photography, and learned that Ligo was considering development of a history of photography course during a sabbatical last year. Ligo was not ready to list the course in this year's catalogue, but agreed to offer it to Muoio as an independent study course. With Ligo as his advisor, Muoio set up his own rubric, organized weekly talks with Ligo about his readings, and worked on a term paper.

Stieglitz's Equivalents Series, the focus of Muoio's final paper, is a series of black and white photographs of clouds that he began in 1923 at age 59. Muoio believes the series marks the end of a transition in the artist's career from "pictorial photography" to "straight photography."

Muoio explained that "pictorial photography" lacks an all-over sharp focus that mimics the way the eye sees, lending its aesthetic to other artistic media such as painting.

Straight photography, on the other hand, depicts objectively in a manner that both celebrates the camera's abilities to "see" in a unique aesthetic (with a completely equal and crisp tonal quality) and to subvert subject matter and preconceived artistic intention.

Critics have argued over what point in his life Stieglitz transitioned to straight photography. Muoio contends in his paper that the Equivalents Series marks a transition in his conceptual style from "a romantic symbolism grounded in the pictorial to an embrace of the purely straight photographic mode lacking in...any symbolic claim."

Equivalents series photo-Stieglitz
A 1930 photo of clouds is part of the Equivalents Series

In this evolution of style, Muoio believes Stieglitz created a "post-modern experiential print." According to Muoio, "By decontextualizing the clouds (primarily through cropping), Stieglitz allows the clouds to lose their objecthood (abandoning any traditional notions of subject matter) whereby meaning can only be drawn from the experiential response."

Muoio further states, "Some argue that it's him recording his feelings, but I'm arguing that he's recording a spiritual experience that the viewer shares."

Ligo praised Muoio's paper for arguing a position and confronting an issue from a new angle. Through extensive research looking at both sides of an issue about which authorities disagree, Muoio came out of the process with a different paper than he intended to write originally. Ligo said the final product evolved into a much better essay than anticipated.

Collegiate Journal of Art is an undergraduate publication that focuses solely on art and history. Ligo noted, "It's wonderful that an undergraduate at Davidson has written a paper of significance that will be published to a wider audience. It's a product that Davidson College should be proud of."

Muoio has recently been working on final edits of his paper, and expects publication this summer. He is spending the summer in New York City as an editorial intern at ARTnews magazine, and is also an intern at the Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea.