Here, from just over a hundred years ago, are some wonderful exercises in form and texture by the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), who was one of the first great art photographers (not that he would have approved of the term). The subject is Miss Ellen Koeniger, the niece of a fellow photographer and friend of Stieglitz, Frank Eugene. Looking as if she is wearing a modern triathlon suit I have read some comments that this is doesn't look like a traditional women's bathing suit of the time which would have been nothing like as revealing as this. That is true, as regards beach wear but I think there are two possibilities. Firstly, it looks exactly like the swim suits worn by competitive swimmers from the 1912 Olympics, when women's swimming was included in the programme for the first time. Secondly, it could be man's suit. Whatever, Miss Koeniger looks sensational in it.
Stieglitz lived in New York but had his summers on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains. No less a personage than Thomas Jefferson said:"Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin... finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal, and the mountain sides covered with rich groves... down to the water-edge: here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony." You can see one of the islands in the background shot above. The lake became a popular retreat for artists.
Stieglitz was born in New Jersey in 1864 and his first trips to Lake George were with his wealthy parents who, like many rich New Yorkers, sought to escape the heat and humidity of the city in the summer. Fearing that the education Stieglitz was getting in New York was not challenging enough his father took the family back to his native Germany for three years and it was while studying chemistry in Berlin that Stieglitz first became interested in photography. Stieglitz stayed on in Germany, not returning to the US until 1890.
There is some suggestion that these shots were not all done at the same time and that this one, in particular, was photographed at Silver Bay. However, as Silver Bay is only fifteen miles from Lake George it is more likely to be a generalisation as to location. The distinctive rough edges to the legs of the swimsuit are the same, as is the arrangement of the headgear.
In the month that Playboy has dropped nudes from its magazine we would suggest that this clothed shot packs more eroticism into its frame than the whole magazine. It clearly demonstrates that the businessmen who run Playboy and equate all nudity with porn do not have a single conception of what real erotic photography is.
These final two shots are more snapshots than figure studies, perhaps, but Miss Koeniger's personality shines through and she gives us what would now be called a nip slip, adding to the informal joy of the shot.