Alfred Stieglitz said the Flat-iron
building appeared to be moving toward me like the bow of a monster
steamera picture of a new America still in the making. (American
Visions, Robert Hughes, 1997) For New Yorkers the Fuller building,
nicknamed the Flat-iron because of its shape, was a symbol of a new, modern
America. People either loved it or hated it. Contrasted with the natural
shape of the tree and bathed in snow and evening light, the building is
an element of quiet beauty in a photograph of soft tones and simple shapes.
The building and the tree form silhouettes, like cut-outs overlapping
one on top of the other. This flattening of space comes from the influence
of Japanese wood-block prints that were all the rage with modern artists
of the time. Other clues that point to the influence of Japanese prints
are the crescent of snow in the crook of the tree (the same tone as the
building), and the tiny figure on the park bench. Humans were often dwarfed
by mountains and rocks in Japanese prints; in New York, buildings do the
job of making people seem tiny.
Stieglitz argued that photographers dealt with the same concerns that
modern painters considered. Translating the influence of Japanese prints
from painting and printmaking to photography was both a modern and an
artistic thing to do.