Steichen, Edward

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Steichen, Edward

(stī`kən), 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 StieglitzStieglitz, Alfred
, 1864–1946, American photographer, editor, and art exhibitor, b. Hoboken, N.J. The first art photographer in the United States, Stieglitz more than any other American compelled the recognition of photography as a fine art.
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 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).

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Steichen, Edward

(1879–1973) photographer, curator; born in Luxembourg (brother-in-law of Carl Sandburg). Emigrating to the United States as a toddler, he was apprenticed to a Milwaukee lithographic design company in 1894. His strong sense of design led to studies in painting and photography and attracted the attention of Stieglitz in 1905, for whom he designed gallery shows and the magazine Camera Work. Commander of aerial photography during World War I, he abandoned art photography to become chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair (1923–38). Hired by the U.S. Navy to photograph World War II at sea, he was promoted from lieutenant commander to captain and organized the Road to Victory exhibit in 1941. From 1947 to 1961, he was director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, curating some 50 exhibits including The Family of Man (1955). In 1963 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Kennedy.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.