Monday, November 16, 2020
Many of the 20th century photographers I have admired since I became interested in photography around 1958 have been photographers who were not one-trick-ponies. They were versatile. One of the most versatile was Edward Steichen.
Edward Jean Steichen (March 27, 1879 — March 25, 1973) was a Luxembourg/American photographer, painter, and curator, who is widely renowned as one of the most prolific and influential figures in the history of photography.
Credited with transforming photography into an art form, Steichen’s photographs were the photographs that most frequently appeared in Alfred Stieglitz’s groundbreaking magazine Camera Work during its publication from 1903 to 1917, with Stieglitz hailing him as “the greatest photographer”.
A pioneer of fashion photography, Steichen laid claim to his photos of gowns for the magazine Art et Décoration in 1911, being the first modern fashion photographs ever published. From 1923 to 1938, Steichen served as chief photographer for the Condé Nast magazines Vogue and Vanity Fair, while also working for many advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson. During these years, Steichen was regarded as the best known and highest paid photographer in the world.]
After the United States’ entry into World War II, Steichen was invited by the United States Navy to serve as Director of the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit. In 1944, he directed the war documentary The Fighting Lady, which won the 1945 Academy Award for Best Documentary.
From 1947 to 1961, Steichen served as Director of the Department of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. While there, he curated and assembled exhibits including The Family of Man, which was seen by nine million people. In 2003, the Family of Man photographic collection was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in recognition of its historical value.
In February 2006, a print of Steichen’s early pictorialist photograph, The Pond — Moonlight (1904), sold for US$2.9 million — at the time, the highest price ever paid for a photograph at auction.
Not mentioned in the above Wikipedia citation is the fact that in July 1928 he took the first ever Kotex ad with a woman in it. Also almost unknown is the fact that his model was Lee Miller who was a muse, assistant and a photographer for Man Ray. She then became a photojournalist in WWII (with that other potographer of note Margaret Bourke-White) and when Miller arrived in Munich in 1945 she insisted she be photographed in Hitler’s tub
At Macleod Books ( not only a Vancouver treasure but a Canadian treasure) I found Edward Steichen’s beautifully written and illustrated The Blue Ghost (the Japanese Navy nickname for the US carrier Lexington) which catalogues his stint on the Lexington from 9 November 1943 to 23 December 1923. In this book are his photographs and his staff of the torpedoing of the Lexington.
This book amply shows that good photographs and good writing go hand in hand and jointly are better that one or the other.
The photograph of the cover of The Blue Ghost, a Grumman F6F Hellcat is justly famous because of its blur that demonstrates the speed of the plane taking off. Steichen explains how he shot it in the book. Read below.
My Steichen Blogs