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Edward Steichen

American Photographer, Painter, and Filmmaker

Edward Steichen Photo

Born: March 27, 1879 - Bivange, Luxembourg

Died: March 25, 1973 - West Redding, Connecticut

"Photography is a major force in explaining man to man".

Summary

Very few artists have had an impact on the American photographic arts to match that of Edward Steichen. From around 1900, he was instrumental in establishing a status for American photography as art through a commitment to the principles Pictorialism. After travels across Europe, and a spell living in Paris, he became acquainted with many of the 20th centuries greatest artists and performers, helping to bring European modernism to the wider attention of the American public through his involvement with the 291 gallery in New York. Steichen joined the American army during WW1 after which he abandoned Pictorialism and painting in favor of Straight Photography. He put his new creativity to use in commercial photography and he is credited by many as having invented what became known as fashion photography. With the onset of WWII, Steichen enlisted once more before resuming his career as Director of the Department of Photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). While at MoMA he curated The Family of Man exhibition, still considered to be the most successful photographic exhibition of all time.

Key Ideas

With Alfred Stieglitz, he helped form the Photo-Secession group, co-founded the influential quarterly Camera Work and established the famous 291 gallery, and all within the first five years of 1900s. In this early period of his career, Steichen divided his time between impressionistic painting and photography. He mastered the skill of Tonalism and the multi-layered color printing process known as gum-bichromate. By this method he was able to bring an impressionistic mood to his photographic images (and, perhaps, something of his photographic practice to his painting).
Following his involvement in the first Great War as a member of the Army's photographic division, Steichen abandoned pictorialism and painting altogether in favor of a more direct form of photography. Steichen reached the conclusion that photography should be treated as an artistic medium on its own terms (it should not try to imitate painting in other words). He effectively started afresh as a Straight Photographer. Straight Photography demanded a commitment to high definition and fine picture detail and through it he brought a new standard of graphic excellence to the pages of top quality magazine publications including Vogue and Vanity Fair.
Through his commercial work, Steichen took many portraits of luminaries from various walks of public life during the 1920s and 1930s. But it was his portraits of the stars of stage and screen that gained him renown as a most brilliant portraitist. Steichen realized the importance of establishing a rapport with his subject and by approaching his portraiture as a collaboration between photographer and sitter he revealed an uncanny ability to capture something of the very essence of their aura.
Edward Steichen Photo

Eduard Jean Steichen was born in Bivange, Luxembourg in 1879. His father, Jean-Pierre, moved to the United States the following year; Eduard and his mother, Marie, following in 1881, once his father had secured work in the copper mines in Hancock, near Chicago. Eduard's sister Lilian was born soon thereafter in 1883. The Steichen family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1889, where, due to Jean-Pierre's deteriorating health, Marie took on the role of breadwinner, working as a milliner.

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