Thursday, July 17, 2014

Photography Spotlight: Steichen

By Christina Ptuhina

Edward Steichen was one of the most influential fashion photographers of 20th century. As a chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair, he immortalized writers, politicians, actors and many other celebrities with his camera.   
 Edward Steichen by Irving Penn. Published in Vogue, February 1, 1948

Born in Luxemburg in 1879, Steichen emigrated to Midwestern America with his family in 1881. He bought his first camera at the age of 16 and was captivated by photography. However, in his early twenties he headed back to Europe to study painting. The trip to Paris brought him together with such artists as Matisse, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec and Rodin. Despite of that Steichen was becoming more and more attracted to the art of camera. It was Steichen who conducted the first fashion photoshoot in the history of photography. It featured evening gowns designed by Paul Poiret (published in Art et Décoration, Paris, 1911).

In 1923 Steichen was hired by Condé Nast as the chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair. Even before that Vanity Fair’s editor Frank Crowninshield characterized him as “the greatest of living portrait photographers”[1]. Steichen’s background in painting was very helpful during his time at Condé Nast. According to William A. Ewing, “as a painter he had learned to depict the subtlest of gestures and the most fleeting of expressions of the woman wearing the clothes”[2].

Steichen’s style is characterized by subtle, harmonious and graceful pictures. Sometimes they look like spontaneous snapshots, very lively and natural. He tended to carefully compose the frame and integrate his models into the scene. The dresses, the silhouettes and the gestures often were correspondent with the lines of furniture or the drapes of curtains.  He was also the great master of lighting and its interrelation with fabrics and skin. 

Steichen’s legacy was highly influential for the next generations of fashion photographers. Some of them also became famous and highly respected masters of portraits, such as Richard Avedon. Edward Steichen was an innovator, a great artist and one of the most respected figures of fashion photography.

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