American, Born Luxembourg, (1879-1973)
Biography | Bibliography
Edward Steichen and his family emigrated to the United States from Luxembourg in 1881 because his mother believed that he would have a better life in Midwestern America. They lived for a time in Michigan and then moved in 1889 to Milwaukee. Between the years of 1894-1898, Edward Steichen apprenticed as a designer for a lithographic company in Milwaukee, studied painting, and helped to organize an Art Students League.
At this time he decided to become a painter, but in 1896 his father gave him his first camera and he was hooked immediately. He studied with a local photographer and by 1899 he entered his first exhibition at the Second Salon of Philadelphia. He went to New York in 1902 and met with Stieglitz who bought some of his work and the two men quickly became friends. Along with Stieglitz, he was principal in the pictorial movement. Edward Steichen was one of the founders of the Photo-Secession. He helped to organize the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (291), and he was instrumental in designing the cover and typography for the Photo-Secessionists’ quarterly, Camera Work.
Between 1906-1914, Edward Steichen lived in Paris where he continued to study painting and photography, and he helped make connections between Stieglitz and such artist’s as Rodin. In 1914, during WWI, he commanded the Photographic Division of Aerial Photography in the American Expeditionary Forces. He retired in 1918 as a lieutenant colonel and decided to burn all of his paintings and concentrate on photography full time. His experience during the war shifted his creative drive away from impressionistic style photographs to creating sharp, clear close-up images of still lives. He also continued to take portraits and was written up in Vanity Fair as “the world’s best portrait photographer”. This led him to the position of chief photographer for Conde Nast publications which allowed him to travel to Europe to photograph fashion, famous writers, artists, and politicians. Between 1923 and 1938, Edward Steichen’s celebrity portraits and fashion photographs were published in Vanity Fair and Vogue and he was widely recognized as one of the best in his field.
In 1938, Edward Steichen had saved up enough money to close down his studio and move to France where he planned on spending his time as a horticulturist. In 1942, he was once again called into duty and served as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy where he was in charge of photographing the naval aspects of the war. Between 1947-1962, he was the director of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In 1952, Edward Steichen began to organize an exhibition which would be a compilation of the best photographers in the world. He went to 29 cities in 11 European countries and the endeavor took 3 years, but the exhibition entitled, The Family of Man, was well worth it. The exhibition was seen by more than nine million people in 69 countries and millions of books from the exhibition were sold. Over the span of his 77 year photographic career, this was probably his consummate achievement.
Dennis Longwell, Steichen, The Master Prints 1895-1914: The Symbolist Period, New York Graphic Society, 1978.
Therese Mulligan, Hollywood Celebrity: Edward Steichen’s Vanity Fair Portraits, Rochester, NY: George Eastman House, 1997.
Christopher Phillips, Steichen at War, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1981.
Joel Smith, Edward Steichen: The Early Years, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
Edward Steichen: The Royal Photographic Society Collection, Milan: Edizioni Charta, 1997.
Joanna Steichen, Steichen’s Legacy: Photographs, 1895-1973, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.