The Flat Iron Building New York can be counted amongst the earliest skyscapers ever and
at the time it was completed (1902) was one of the tallest buildings in New York City.
It was designed by Daniel Burnham who oversaw the design process along with Frederick P. Dinkelberg
(1859-1935) who worked on details of the building.
The building is 22 stories high (285 feet) and has a triangular ground-plan, touching on
23rd Street, Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it is easily
recognizable and has become an icon of New York City. It was designated as a National
Historic Landmark in 1989.
It is popular with tourists and photographers such as Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz
have made iconic atmospheric images, two of which are shown here.
Both Stieglitz and Steichen were pictorialists, meaning the emphasis in their photographs
is less on the detail and more on the forms and a painterly quality. Indeed, Steichen was
originally a painter before taking up photography.
In spite of that, Stieglitz's Flatiron building has a degree of realism to it. The stark tree
trunk cuts up the vertical axis of the image without romanticisizing it any way. Steichen on the
other hand uses the branches of a tree to enhance the atmosphere. Steichen also includes a
night scene of people, a carriage and a driver giving a more pictorial image altogether.
Steichen created three versions of his photograph using chemicals and pigments brushed over the
original as if to assert the pictorial potential of photography. So from one negative he
produced three different images.
In Steichen's Flatiron photograph we can see the soft-focus, painterly effect
that many of the Photo Secessionnists of that time strove for. Steiglitz's Flatiron on the other
hand, still possesses
some pictorial elements but we can also see Modernism emerging where bold, simplified forms
and graphic power became the goal.
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