was known as 'the master of lighting'. He used plain backgrounds to focus
on the outfit being modelled. He was an American photographer who sought
an emotional impressionistic rendering of his subjects and strove to have
photography recognised as a serious art form.
Edward Steichen concluded that when a woman saw a picture of a dress
she should get 'a very good idea of how it was put together and what it
looked like'. His decision to take photographs that would make crystal
clear the fabric cut and destails of the cosumer
dward Steichen, who joined Vogue in 1923, trained as an artist but symbolically
destroyed all his canvases in 1922 to concentrate on photography .
teichen took up photography in 1895, at the age of sixteen, and was self-taught.
During his early career, around the turn of the century, he was associated
with a style of photography known as Pictorialism.
felt that the aesthetic promise of photography lay in an emulation of
painting. Steichen's early work, then, adopted many Pictorialist techniques
(a jiggled tripod, a lens bathed in glycerin, or various darkroom tricks)
designed to produce 'painterly' soft-focus effects. During this period,
Steichen was also a
painter, until he burned all his canvases in 1922.
In these pioneer
days, photographers were given a free hand and competition between the
magazines Vogue and Harpers Bazaar encouraged creativity.
dward Steichen was known as 'the master of lighting'. He used plain backgrounds
to focus attention on the outfit being modelled. He was an American photographer
who sought an emotional impressionistic rendering of his subjects and
strove to have photography recognised as a serious art form.
y the 1930's fashion photography had become a distinctive visual genre
in the Arts. Couture was still for the aristocratic but fashion itself
was beginning to become less elite. Vogue had become an important arbiter
of fashion, purveying elegant and tasteful images to its affluent readers
who had the time, money and dedication to be well dressed.
of hand held cameras
evelopment of hand held cameras and faster film speeds (Particularly the
1/1000 Leica) made outdoor shoots feasible. The Rolliflex camera and colour
film provided new levels of reality.
Art movement had a huge influence and there was a marked shift from classicism
by Man Ray and Horst P. Horst provided a fusion of contemporary art and
World War II
effectively closed down the fashion industry. Paris
became isolated by the French Occupation in 1940 and photographers such
as Man Ray and Horst P. Horst emigrated to New York. The shift from Europe
to the U.S.A. was coupled with the emergence of a youthful and sporty
uring the past few years, photographers and art/creative directors have
become increasingly more inventive and creative in promoting fashion within
Sunday magazines. Sometimes the product almost seems to be a vehicle for
the self-indulgence of the photographer and director. Nevertheless, we
are presented with some very interesting images.
dward Steichen was one of the most influential figures in the history
of photography. He was also one of the most precocious.
Born in Luxembourg,
raised in Wisconsin, and trained as a lithographer's apprentice, Steichen
took up photography in his teens and by age twenty-three had created brooding
tonalist landscapes and brilliant psychological studies that won the praise
of Alfred Stieglitz in New York and Auguste Rodin in Paris, among others.
master of the painterly photograph'
ver the next decade, this young man, the preferred portraitist of the
elite of two continents,was repeatedly acclaimed as the peerless master
of the painterly photograph. |
Steichen worked with a designer's inventive eye, a Symbolist's poetic
sensibility, an entrepreneur's charisma, and -above all - the originality
and finesse of a creative and painstaking printer to establish ambitious
new standards in artistic photography.
the subtle tone-poetry of his platinum prints with repeated washes of
harmonious color, he created unforgettable images. In his three famous
twilight views of New York's Flatiron Building, one of the landmarks of
turn-of-the-century architecture, Steichen crafted a powerful symbol of
a new age.
long career he worked in a variety of styles in black-and-white and in
color; his subjects ranged from portraits and landscapes, to fashion and
advertising photography, to photography of dance and sculpture. His early
work demonstrated a mastery of soft-focus Pictorialism, yet after the
first World War he became a proponent of "straight" photography
and the New Realism.
teichen is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the history
of photography. During his active career, which lasted over half the life
span of photography, he was renowned as an artist, fashion photographer,
curator, writer, and technical innovator.
He was also
a passionate advocate for photography as an art form, and led, along with
Alfred Stieglitz, an aesthetic revolution that enabled photography to
be considered as a medium capable of interpretation and expression, and
not as a mere documentary record of visual facts.
In her book
on Steichen,, Joel Smith explores Steichen's maturing artistry in the
light of contemporary developments in photography, graphic design, and
the decorative arts.
photograph from his stunning sequence of Rodin's Balzac figure in the
moonlight is presented below.
he intense energy of a decade comes to life in his portraits of a diverse
cast ranging from Richard Strauss to J. P. Morgan, Maurice Maeterlinck
to George Bernard Shaw and Steichen himself, the founding author of a
century of celebrity.
Foundation of the
n 1905, with Stieglitz, he founded the famous Little Galleries of the
Photo Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York (later the 291 Gallery)
to promote photography as an art form in particular, and European Modernism
came under the spell of the new art movements with their abstract geometries,
and he gradually abandoned his Pictorialism in favour of straight photography
with a strong sense of design and clean, uncluttered images and compositions.
on to command the photographic division of the U.S. Expeditionary Forces
in World War I, and to direct the Naval Photographic Institute in World
uring the 1920s and 1930s he worked as a commercial photographer for Conde
Nast's publications including Vogue and Vanity Fair, and from 1947-1962
was Director of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern
Art in New York.
n 1947 Steichen was appointed director of photography for the Museum of
Modern Art in New York. He prepared The Family of Man, a photographic
exhibit (1955) that later toured the world and in book form sold 3 million
copies. His work is collected in the Museum of Modern Art and Eastman
House, Rochester, New York. He died in West Redding on March 25, 1973.
features Steichen's straight photography from 1915 through 1954. During
this period, the artist was best known for his Modernist, formal compositions
of landscapes, cityscapes, nature studies, and still-lifes, as well as
his penetrating, straight-forward portraits of celebrities. The forty-six
works in Edward Steichen: Photographs are silver-gelatin prints, printed
posthumously by Steichen's protègè and long-time printer
George Tice (Tice's own work can be seen in DeCordova Collects Photographs:
Recent Acquisitions in the main galleries). The Steichen photographs are
part of DeCordova's Permanent Collection, and are the generous gift of
collectors Stephen L. Singer and Linda G. Singer. This exhibition was
organized by Associate Curator Nick Capasso.
Steichen's entire body of work is noted for a highly developed sense of
design. As a curator at New York's Museum of Modern Art, for 15 years
Steichen was responsible for many important exhibitions, including The
Family of Man.
teichen was born Eduard Jean Steichen in Luxembourg. His family came to
the United States in 1881 and settled in Hancock, Michigan; in 1889 they
moved to Milwaukee.
early interest in art was encouraged by his mother. He attended the 1893
World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where he was introduced to important
contemporary works of art. At age 15 Steichen began a 4-year lithography
apprenticeship at Milwaukee's American Fine Art Company. From 1894 to
1898 he worked under Richard Lorenz and Robert Schode at the Milwaukee
Art Students League. He began to photograph in 1895, but continued to
pursue his career as a painter for the next 20 years.
photographs received their first public showing at the Second Philadelphia
Salon in 1899. The following year (in which he became a naturalized American
citizen), Steichen received encouragement from Clarence White, who prompted
Alfred Stieglitz to purchase three Steichen prints.
While in Paris
at this time Steichen was deeply impressed by the work of Rodin, of whose
work and person he would create many extraordinary images. Thirty-five
Steichen photographs were included in F. Holland Day's The New School
of American Photography exhibition in London and Paris in 1901. Steichen
was elected to the Linked Ring at this time.
In 1902 he
became a founding member of the Photo-Secession and designed the cover
of its journal, Camera Work, in which his work often was reproduced in
the coming years. Steichen's first one-man show of photographs and paintings
was held at La Maison des Artistes in Paris the same year. In New York
Steichen helped Stieglitz open the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession
("291") at which Steichen exhibited regularly.
experimenting with color photography in 1904 and was an early user of
the Lumiere Autochrome process.
to Paris in 1906 and was responsible for selecting work to be exhibited
by Stieglitz in New York. Among the artists whose work he sent on were
John Marin, Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi, Cezanne, and Rodin.
n 1910 thirty-one Steichen photographs were exhibited at the international
Exhibition of Pictorial Photography in Buffalo, which was curated by Stieglitz.
The following year Steichen made his first fashion photographs, but he
began devoting much of his time to painting. In 1913 Stieglitz wrote of
the double issue of Camera Work devoted to Steichen's photographs:
I have ever done has given me quite so much satisfaction as finally sending
this Number out into the world."
of the photographic division of the Army Expeditionary Forces in World
War 1, Steichen became acquainted with aerial photography, which required
a new precision.
He was also
employed as an advertising photographer by the J. Walter Thompson Agency.
Among Steichen's sitters during these years were his brother-in-law Carl
Sandburg, Greta Garbo, Charles Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, and H. L. Mencken.
Steichen's relationship with Stieglitz was strained over issues concerning
commercial and advertising work to which Stieglitz objected. Steichen
believed that his fashion and other commercial photography could be raised
to the level of art.
uring the war years Steichen organized the Road to Victory and Power in
the Pacific exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
From 1947 to 1962 Steichen was director of the Department of Photography
at the Museum.
He did no photographic
work of his own during these years, but was responsible for nearly 50
shows, including the Family of Man (for which he selected images from
over two million photographs and which became the most popular exhibition
in the history of photography as well as a best-selling book), The Bitter
Years, and the Diogenes with a Camera series.
Steichen Photography Centre
In 1961 Steichen
was honoured by a one-man show of his photographs at the Museum of Modern
Art. The Edward Steichen Photography Centre was established at the museum
in 1964. In 1967 Steichen wrote,
I am no longer concerned with photography as an art form. I believe it
is potentially the best medium for explaining man to himself and to his
in West Redding, Connecticut, shortly before his 94th birthday.
Profile: Edward Steichen
In the range and quality of his production in the fashion and advertising
fields, Edward Steichen might be said to embody the development of utilitarian
photography in the 20th century. Steichen was engaged with much that was
vital and new in the medium during the 20th century, from a beginning
as a Pictorialist photographer through activities in the commercial sector
to a position as director of the most prestigious museum photography department
in the United States (at the Museum of Modern Art). As a creative individual,
as a designer of exhibitions and periodicals, as a director of projects,
he left an unmistakable imprint on the photographic trends of his time.
Born Eduard Steichen, in Luxembourg in 1879, he was brought to the United
States as an infant. When he displayed artistic ability he was apprenticed
after 1894 to a firm of lithographers in Milwaukee; he both painted and
photographed, submitting to Pictorialist salons during the 1890s. Clarence
H. White noticed him in 1900 and soon after brought him to the attention
of Stieglitz, with whom he shortly began to collaborate on the installations
for the gallery 291 and on the founding of Camera Work, for which he designed
the first cover and the initial publicity. Still not entirely committed
to photography, Steichen spent the greater part of the period before the
first World War painting in France. There his knowledge of Symbolism,
Expressionism, and Cubism enabled him to direct Stieglitz's attention
to these significant art movements. Besides paintings (nearly all of which
he later destroyed), Steichen made sensitive photographs in the Symbolist
style of landscapes, genre scenes, and New York cityscapes and perceptive
portraits of wealthy and creative individuals in Paris and New York during
this period. As part of the active New York art scene of the time, he
was portrayed photographing Marcel Duchamp, in Sunday Afternoon in the
Country, a 1917 oil by Florine Stettheimer. Other photographers included
in the painted scene are Arnold Genthe and Baron de Meyer.
Steichen's experiences as director of aerial photography for the Allied
Forces during World War I, followed by a period of several years of photographic
experimentation based on his interest in the theory of dynamic symmetry,
enabled him to shed the vestiges of his Pictorialist sensibility and open
himself up to modernist ideas. In his position with Conde Nast from 1922
and also as a free-lance advertising photographer, he explored the vocabulary
of the New Objectivity during the 1920s in order to create ingenious advertising
and fashion images in what was still a relatively fresh field. This phase
of Steichen's career, which he brought to an end in 1938 when he realized
that commercial work was no longer personally stimulating, prepared him
to embrace a broader concept of photography and to assume a role as administrator.
Although not himself involved in photo-reportage or the documentary movement,
by the late 1930s he was convinced that the fine quality of work produced
by photographers working for the Farm Security Administration and for
Life had effectively erased aesthetic distinctions among images made as
personal expression, as photojournalism, or as social commentary.
In 1947, after serving as director of Naval Combat Photography during
World War II, Steichen accepted the directorship of the Department of
Photography of the Museum of Modern Art. His purpose, he said, was to
make sure that what he called the "aliveness in the melting pot of
American photography" and "the restless seekings, probing aspirations
and experiments of younger photographers" would be represented in
the museum collection. During his tenure, which lasted until 1961, he
organized and promoted exhibitions, wrote numerous articles, helped publish
books on the medium, and was instrumental in making photographic images
acceptable in a museum setting. In 1955, Steichen organized The Family
of Man exhibition and catalog, which he considered the culmination of
his career. He believed that this show promoted photography as "a
tool for penetrating beneath the surface of things" and that it proved
that journalistic photographs had their own aesthetic forms. Long before
he died in 1972, he was recognized as one of the small group of individuals
whose ideas, energy, and images had helped shape photography in the 20th
The Early Years
You are commissioned
to produce a series of photographs for a fashion editorial in a leading
Sunday magazine. Your inspiration should be the work of the painter-turned
photographer Edward Steichen. Pay particular reference to his portraits
from 1903 - 1906 which have a strong painterly quality.
Produce a layout
for a four-page spread incorporating a full page image and two smaller
images. The format and size of the work is to be of your own choosing.
You need only produce the typography for the article title and subheadings.
Coverage on the full page image is to be no more than 10%. You should,
however, indicate the position of columns and page numbers.