Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was an American photographer, painter, and art collector whose work spanned many decades, earning him a reputation as one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century. The breadth of Steichen's career, from his early photographs of modernist subjects to his later fashion photography, is a testament to his creativity, innovation, and technical skill. Here, we take a closer look at Steichen's life, work, and legacy.
Early Life & Education
Edward Steichen was born in Luxembourg on March 27, 1879, one of seven children of an immigrant family. Early in his life, Steichen showed a talent for painting, and his parents encouraged his artistic pursuits. When he was eleven, the family immigrated to the United States, settling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Steichen initially attended school, but he left at the age of sixteen to pursue his artistic career. He took classes at the Milwaukee Art Students League, and later moved to New York, where he studied at the Academy of Design. He also attended the Art Students League of New York, and worked as a lithographer and illustrator.
In 1900, Steichen met Alfred Stieglitz, the influential photographer and gallery owner. Stieglitz was an important influence on Steichen's work, and the two men became close friends and colleagues. Steichen's work began to gain recognition, and in 1902, Stieglitz included his photographs in the prestigious "Photo-Secession" exhibition at his gallery.
Steichen's early photographs show his modernist aesthetic, and his skillful use of light and shadow. He was a master of technical photography, and he experimented with a variety of techniques, including photomontage and solarization. In 1904, he traveled to Europe and made a series of photographs of Paris. He was heavily influenced by the French modernist movement, and his photographs from this period reflect this influence.
In 1905, Steichen returned to the United States and began experimenting with color photography. He created some of his most famous images in this period, including "The Pond–Moonlight" (1904), "The Flatiron Building" (1905), and "The Terminal" (1908). These photographs demonstrate his mastery of composition, light, and shadow, and they are now considered classics of the medium.
In the 1910s, Steichen began working in fashion photography. He worked for Vogue and Vanity Fair, and created iconic images of celebrities such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. He also worked on advertising campaigns for major brands such as Kodak and J.C. Penney. His fashion photography was ground-breaking, and it helped to shape the genre for years to come.
Later Life & Legacy
In the 1920s, Steichen became increasingly interested in painting and sculpture. He continued to take photographs, but his focus began to shift away from the medium. In 1938, he was appointed as director of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He held the position until 1962, and during his tenure, he organized a number of important exhibitions, including "The Family of Man" in 1955. In the 1950s, he also began collecting photographs and assembling a personal collection that eventually included over 50,000 prints.
Edward Steichen died in 1973, at the age of 94. He was one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century, and his work continues to be admired and studied. His photographs and collections are held in major museums around the world, and his legacy as an artist and innovator is firmly established.
Art Of Photography on Steichen
The Art Of Photography on Steichen's Aerial Bombing photo.