Edward Steichen

Edward Steichen

  • Introduction

  • CV

„A splash of Photo History Comes to Light“ – New York Times

The lost prints

The Story of a Rediscovery

Around 1982/83 Joanna T. Steichen commissioned editions from Edward Steichen’s estate. Together with George Tice, Steichen’s legendary printer and assistant, she sorted through more than 2000 negatives to make a selection of the best 61 motifs that represent Steichen’s complete work. Thus, a unique edition was created to appear in 100 copies (+ 32 Artist Proofs). George Tice produced prints in Steichen’s tradition, on archival quality barite paper and individually adjusted in tonality and impression to the motifs. After approximately two years work, all of the prints were signed by Joanna T. Steichen and George Tice. Few prints found their way to buyers, perhaps because the idea was too advanced for a photography market that had not yet developed to today’s niveau. The financial backer of the project (and art lover) took the unsold pictures. Thus the majority of the edition was considered by the public as lost. LUMAS discovered the prints in one of the financier’s art depots – in absolutely perfect condition! LUMAS is now very pleased to be able to exclusively offer this authorized treasure of photographic history that has only recently been made available.

Edward Steichen (1879–1973)

Edward Steichen’s photographs are icons of 20th century photographic and art history. Steichen was at home in all areas of photography: portrait, landscape, still life, fashion, dance, theater, flowers, advertising, as well as war reportage and aerial photography. And Steichen was a painter. Originally from Luxembourg, in 1902 Steichen founded with Alfred Stieglitz, the legendary group “Photo Secession” and actively participated in the pioneering magazine Camera Work. Joanna T. Steichen explains that after World War I Steichen even played with the idea to become a film director. Perhaps that explains why in subsequent years he introduced movement as a fundamental innovation in much of his society, still, and fashion photography. What is also unique and exciting about Steichen is how he managed – committed only in quality and the joy of experimentation – to create milestones in the world of 20th century images within commercial photography. With his magical play of light and movement, of figures and accessories, beginning in 1923 he produced legendary, entrancing photos for Vanity Fair and Vogue thereby inventing fashion photography as we know it today. He was director of photography from 1947–1962 at the Museum of Modern Art New York; and in 1955 organized the epoch-making exhibition “The Family of Man.” During its international tour, the exhibition was seen by over 10 million people – a record rarely reached even today. Steichen died in 1973 in West Redding, Connecticut. In February 2006, Edward Steichen’s hand-colored print The Pond-Moonlight was auctioned in New York for approximately US$ 2.9 million – at that time the highest bid ever placed for a photograph. Work from the LUMAS edition “The Lost Prints” have already been auctioned at Christie’s and Sotheby’s for up to US$ 4,800.The motifsThe selection of 61 photographs for the LUMAS edition embodies the spectrum of Steichen’s work. Particularly pleasing is that many classic, internationally recognized motifs are also part of the selection. The result is a so-called “Best of Steichen” work group that, as an entirety, makes an exquisite museum exhibition. Representative groups include famous portraits (like of Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Eugene O’Neill, or Rudolf Valentino), landscapes and urban photographs (like Bryant Park Breadline, New York City, or George Washington Bridge), through still lifes, nudes, and Steichen’s inimitable photographs of flowers. The compilation brings to us the whole world of Steichen’s visual cosmos before our eyes.

The prints

George Tice, Steichen’s longtime assistant and printer, was a detail-obsessed, dutiful producer of Steichen’s photographs in quality and impression. Quality and impression? First, the prints are of a quality seldom found today. Second, Tice and Joanna T. Steichen decided with much intuition, faithfulness to the work, and a sensitive eye which motifs on what paper and with which tone would produce the best results. Another valuable characteristic of this edition is that different papers that were still available on the market were selected appropriate to the motif: Kodak Ektalure, Agfa Brovira, Agfa Portriga Rapid or Oriental Seagull, Ilford Galerie. And wherever appropriate, the prints were provided with a light tone to strengthen the effect of the image.

Book and exhibition

In October 2007 the first European retrospective goes on tour to various museums: Jeu de Paume, Paris; Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne; Kunsthaus Zürich; Palazzo Magnani, Reggio Emilia; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid – these are the first stops of the journey that will finally make this great personality of art and photographic history duly known in Europe. German art publisher Hatje Cantz will also publish in October 2007 a large Steichen book with contributions from international authors inviting a profound examination of his life and work.

Steichen’s beginning

Describing the beginning of Steichen’s career as fashion photographer and art director at Vogue and Vanity Fair, Joanna T. Steichen accounts: “Before the turn of the century, Steichen photographed by natural light, both sun and moon. In 1923, he went to work for Condé Nast as chief photographer on Vogue and Vanity Fair. For his first Condé Nast sitting, he walked into a studio equipped with an electrician and batteries of electric lights. The electrician waited for directions. Steichen, always a master of the authoritative bluff, walked about for a few minutes in silence, apparently designing his picture. In fact, he was pondering the dilemma of artificial light. He knew nothing about its use in photography. So he instructed the electrician to remove all the lights except one, which he proceeded to use through the filter of a sheet, as if it were a natural light source. He reported that the Condé Nast staff buzzed in admiration at this novel and dramatic approach. As the sittings progressed, he added lights, one by one, giving himself careful on-the-job training in the use of floods and spots.” LUMAS’ publication of 61 motifs in extraordinary print quality, the traveling exhibition beginning in autumn, as well as the first retrospective book about Edward Steichen appearing in a long time, are three events that will grant meaning also in Europe to the singular artist that is due in the history of art and photography of the 20th century.

By Walter Keller, freelance curator LUMAS and editor-in-chief of “du” magazine (September 2007)

1879born in Bivange, Luxembourg
1881Emigration of the Steichen family to the United States
1905Opening of art gallery The Photo-Secession Galleries and 291 together with Alfred Stieglitz in New York
Member of the Photo-Secession and one of the most important representatives of pictorialism
beginning 1923Works as fashion photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair
1947–1962 Director of the department of photography of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
1955 Curator of the epochal exhibition “The Family of Man”
25 March 1973Edward Steichen dies in West Redding, Connecticut

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