A Stieglitz relative admires the photographer's mission

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After Alanna Kanawalsky's husband gave her a Canon digital camera for her 28th birthday, the Dormont woman enrolled in a basic photography class at the Community College of Allegheny County.

If the instructor, Kevin E. McCaslin, expects just a bit more from her than his other students, it's probably because she is the first cousin, four times removed, of Alfred Stieglitz, the father of American photography.

On Monday, the 28-year-old Mrs. Kanawalsky walked through a current Carnegie Museum of Art exhibition that includes 10 images by Alfred Stieglitz, including "The Steerage," which shows upper-class passengers and people in lower, cheaper berths gathered on a passenger ship bound for Europe. The image is so famous that it was turned into a U.S. postage stamp.

Family lore, Mrs. Kanawalsky said, is that it's the only picture the famous photographer ever staged, a story she heard from her father, Eric Stieglitz, who bears a striking resemblance to Alfred Stieglitz.

"He asked the boy to tip his hat down," Mrs. Kanawalsky said.

The white straw boater, worn by a passenger on the upper deck, is one of the focal points of the image.

Mrs. Kanawalsky grew up outside New York City in New Rochelle, an affluent Westchester County suburb. When she was 11, she planned to do a school assignment about a ballerina for an event called "Night of Notables." But her teacher urged her to learn more about her multitalented ancestor, so she did.

"Alfred's father, Edward, is my great-great-grandfather's brother," Mrs. Kanawalsky said.

Alfred Stieglitz "was really the black sheep of the family," she said, adding that he was always urging her grandmother, Constance, to go skinny dipping when she vacationed with her husband, Marcel, at Lake George in the Adirondacks.

Mrs. Kanawalsky moved here five years ago to earn a master's degree in applied developmental psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. As a certified child life specialist, she advocates for adolescents who are patients at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and also uses play therapy to help them adjust to strange surroundings.

Aside from learning more about photography, she recently inherited a large collection of cameras from her grandfather, John Stieglitz. Mrs. Kanawalsky admires Alfred Stieglitz because he advocated tirelessly for photography as an art form, discovered and showcased young artists and worked hard to make art available to the general public.


Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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