NARRATOR: One day, while traveling first class on an ocean liner, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz went for a stroll. He found himself looking down at the low class deck, called The Steerage. It was full of immigrants.
ALFRED STIEGLITZ: There were men and women and children on the lower deck of the steerage. I longed to escape from my surroundings and join them. The round straw hat, the funnel leaning left, the stairway leaning right, round shapes of iron machinery. I saw a picture of shapes and underlying that, the feeling I had about life.
NARRATOR: This famous picture has become an icon, representing the poignancy and hardships of the immigration experience. Your eye is tempted to pick out people in the crowd. For instance the woman in a shawl in the lower right-hand corner and then wonder who they were and what would become of them in the new world. Ironically, Stieglitz’s ship was not heading for Ellis Island. It was actually going to Germany and the immigrants were leaving the US, not arriving. For one reason or another they had failed to make a life in America. The literal truth of this photograph is the opposite of the meaning we usually read into it.