Edward Steichen (1879-1973) is one of the most prolific, influential and controversial figures in the history of photography. An incessant innovator, he applied his talents to portraiture, the nude, landscape, cityscape, flowers, dance, theatre, fashion, advertising and war. Steichen’s contributions could fill a full chapter in the history of photography. From 1900 on he was recognized on both sides of the Atlantic as a leading figure in fine-art photography. Between the two world wars he revolutionized fashion photography while becoming known as “the most famous portrait photographer in the world”. In the post-war period, Steichen made his influence felt as a curator at New York's Museum of Modern Art, most notably with the legendary exhibition “The Family of Man”.
When in 1923 Steichen was offered one of commercial photography’s most prestigious und lucrative posts, that of chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair, the authoritative fashion and society magazines published in New York by Condé Nast, he came to the task well prepared. As an accomplished photographer, he had mastered the art of portraiture, and as a versatile practitioner of other media, he brought the skills of painter and printmaker to his new tasks.
For Vogue he photographed the work of the finest couturiers, from Poiret to Schiaparelli; for Vanity Fair he showcased the most prominent figures in the realms of literature, journalism, dance, sport, politics, theatre and film. He took to the assignment with his characteristic enthusiasm, which would remain undiminished from the early 1920s until the late 30s.
Compared with his predecessors, Steichen accomplished a stylistic leap in fashion photography equal in magnitude to the transition from silent pictures to sound. He abandoned his artistic beginnings in photographic Impressionism, Art Nouveau and Symbolism in favour of a wholly original, Art Déco-inspired, thoroughly modern style perfectly adapted to the innovative fashions of the time. What strikes us today, some seventy-five years later, is the versatility of his approach. Steichen never fell back on formula, and constantly found new ways to show his sitters and their clothes to advantage. One admiring critic claimed that to be photographed by the master was to be “Steichenized”.
Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, is produced by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis, and the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne
Curators of the exhibition: William A. Ewing, Todd Brandow and Nathalie Herschdorfer
This exhibition has been generously supported by a gift from the David and Francie Horvitz Family Foundation, with additional support from LXR Luxury Resorts and Hotels and the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six, Ivonne de la Vega, and Funding Arts Broward.