Edward Steichen

Steichen, Edward (stĪˈkən) [key], 1879–1973, American photographer, b. Luxembourg, reared in Hancock, Mich. Steichen is credited with the transformation of photography into an art form. At 16, while apprenticed as a lithographer, he taught himself photography and painted in his spare time. Studying art in Paris, he sought painterly effects in his photography, becoming an enormously successful portrait photographer. In New York City he was associated with Alfred Stieglitz in the founding of the "291" and Photo-Secession galleries. At "291" he brought works by Cézanne, Rodin, Picasso, and Matisse to American attention. Back in Paris, Steichen made botanical experiments, a lifelong passion; he was later to win added renown as a crossbreeder of flowers.

During World War I Steichen was instrumental in the development of aerial photography. Fascinated by the technical potential of the medium, he produced pictures remarkable for their clarity, detail, and expressive use of light. From 1923 to 1938 he worked as a portrait and fashion photographer for Condé Nast publications and opened a commercial studio. At this time he made superb photomurals, including those of the George Washington Bridge. During World War II, he was placed in command of naval combat photography.

Steichen was later director of the department of photography of the Museum of Modern Art (1947–62). In this capacity he organized the Family of Man exhibition (1955) to "mirror the essential oneness of mankind"; it is considered the greatest photographic exposition ever mounted. During his time at the museum, Steichen had virtually abandoned his own work; but in his last years he filmed the effect of the passing seasons on a flowering shadblow tree. Steichen's creative imagination and his extraordinarily powerful imagery forged for him and for his medium an honored place among the fine arts.

See his Life in Photography (1963, repr. 1985); Edward Steichen: The Portraits, with text by C. Peterson (1989); C. Sandburg (his brother-in-law) et al., Steichen the Photographer (1961); J. Steichen (his third wife), Steichen's Legacy: Photographs, 1895–1973 (2000); biography by P. Nivens (1997); J. Smith, Edward Steichen: The Early Years (1999).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

More on Edward Steichen from Fact Monster:

  • March 27 Birthdays: Edward Steichen - March 27 birthdays: Edward Steichen, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, Michael York, Louis Simpson, Georges Eugène Haussmann, Quentin Tarantino, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Mariah Carey, Nathaniel Currier, Sarah Vaughan
  • secession, in art - secession secession, in art, any of several associations of progressive artists, especially those ...
  • Carl Sandburg - Biography of Carl Sandburg, Author of the poem Chicago
  • Carl Sandburg - Sandburg, Carl Sandburg, Carl, 1878–1967, American poet and biographer, b. Galesburg, Ill. ...
  • still photography: The Impact of New Technology - The Impact of New Technology The development of the 35-mm or “candid” camera by Oskar ...

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Photography: Biographies