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The Steerage

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)

The Steerage, 1907

  • Photogravure
  • 15 7/8 x 11 1/16 in. (40.4 x 28.1 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Purchase: Mr. and Mrs. George Jaffin Fund, 2000-6
  • © 2008 Georgia O'Keefe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Not on view



The Steerage


The Steerage


Encourage students to examine The Steerage carefully:

  • Does Stieglitz’s photograph express class consciousness, or is it simply an observation of his surroundings, focusing as much on the shapes formed by the picture’s elements as much as its subject?

  • Look closely at the people, the clothes, and the setting in this photograph. When and where do you think the photograph was taken? What clues tell you this? From what vantage point was it taken?

  • How would you describe the people in the top portion of the photo? How do they compare with the people in the bottom section? What possible conclusions can you draw?

  • What is the focal point of the photograph? What kinds of lines and shapes do you see? How has the artist structured the composition?


After giving students ample opportunity to examine The Steerage, share with them the date and title of the photograph. Lead them in a discussion of related topics and themes:

  • How do the date and title help you understand the photograph?

  • Who do you think these people are? Where do you think they are going (or coming from)?

  • This photo was taken on a boat leaving New York for Europe. Why might these people be leaving New York?

  • People often mistakenly think this photograph shows immigrants coming to New York. Can this photograph be used to teach about immigration, even though it doesn’t truly show immigration? How? What makes a photograph "true"?

  • Would this photograph look different if it showed immigrants coming to America? How?

  • How might this photograph look if it showed immigrants coming to or from the United States today?


  • Ellis Island
  • Immigration in the Early 20th Century
  • The Process of Immigration
  • Photography