In 1893, photographer Alfred Stieglitz was given a new 4 x 5 hand-held camera that revolutionized his ability to respond to events. Although a proponent of the merits of the unretouched, direct photograph, Stieglitz here, as in many other works, adopted some of the popular Pictorialist techniques, such as soft focus and painterly surfaces. This startlingly immediate photograph with the ephemeral yet highly tangible steam; solid, still figures of the man and his horses; and vigorous, almost chaotic movement was taken the day after a snowstorm and depicts a streetcar driver watering his horses. While in some ways a photograph of a beautifully teeming city caught between the powers of man and nature, this photograph also reveals a strong personal relationship with New York.
In 1890 Stieglitz returned to the United States from a decade in Europe; his subsequent loneliness and alienation in a city that no longer felt like his own seem reflected in the faceless figures and modern urban subject. These photographs of New York became his search for humanity in an unfamiliar city; he would later say that this image was “the first human thing [he] saw in New York.” Stieglitz would go on to become one of the most important champions of modern photography as owner of the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (opened 1905) and publisher of the photographic journals Camera Notes (1897–1901) and Camera Work (1903–1917).