The photographer, editor, and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz was a major figure in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century movement to establish photography as a fine art. Retrospectively, Stieglitz considered The Steerage his best photograph and elaborated a complex myth around the moment of its creation. Taken aboard the Kaiser Wilhelm II as it traveled from New York to Germany, the image shows the third-class passengers of the steerage, the lower deck of the ship, which held hundreds of passengers in terrible conditions. Stieglitz, however, considered the photograph not a document of their plight but an expression of his own emotions through formal composition. Looking back years later, he claimed, "I saw shapes related to each other. I saw a picture of shapes and underlying that the feeling I had about life."