Posts Tagged ‘Stieglitz Camera Work

24
Apr
14

Exhibition: ‘Paris as Muse: Photography, 1840s-1930s’ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 28th January – 4th May 2014

 

If there is one city in the world in which I would really like to live, it would be Paris. I have loved her since first going there as a teenager and she has never foresaken that love: always romantic, beautiful, intriguing, Paris is my kind of city. As a flâneur there is much to observe, much to digest and assimilate through periods of reflection.

Where do you start? Steichen, Stieglitz, Fox Talbot, Marville, Brassaï, Jeanloup Sieff, Cartier-Bresson, Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Nadar, any photographer of note but above all Atget – all acquiescent to her charms. Strange as it may seem, it is not that the photographer takes photos of Paris (as though possessing an object of desire), but that the city allows these revelations to occur as a kind of benediction, a kind of divine blessing. Am I making any sense here? Perhaps I am just too much in love, but having photographed in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery for example, there is nothing quite like the feeling I get when in the City of Light.

The photographs in this posting are magnificent. The intimacy of the Brassaï, the tonality of the Steichen; the dankness of the Marville and the informality of the Stieglitz. The first two Atget are cracking images. Note how the auteur éditeur uses the darkness of the tree trunks to divide the picture plane, better than anyone has done before or since. It is a pleasure to be able to show you Atget’s Work Room with Contact Printing Frames (c. 1910, below), an image I have never seen before in all the years I have been looking at his work. Make sure you enlarge the image to see all the details including the simplicity of the trestle table: “On the table are the wooden frames the photographer used to contact print his glass negatives; at right are several bins of negatives stacked vertically; below the table are his chemical trays; on the shelves above are stacks of paper albums – a shelf label reads escaliers et grilles (staircases and grills).”

I am particularly taken by the feather duster, the parcels wrapped in newspapers and tied with string, and intrigued by the print of a moonrise(?) over a bridge high up, tacked to the wall (see detail image below). Obviously this image meant a lot to him because it is the only one in the room and it would have taken a bit of an effort to put it up there. I wonder whose image it is, and what bridge it is of…

Marcus

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Many thankx to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

“Oysters and a glass of wine, a corner café, the Sunday bird market on the Île de la Cité, a lover’s stolen kiss: Paris has loomed large in the imagination of artists, writers, and architects for centuries. For 175 years, it has attracted photographers from around the world who have succumbed to its spell and made it their home for part, if not all, of their lives.

Paris as Muse: Photography, 1840s-1930s (January 27 – May 4, 2014) celebrates the first 100 years of photography in Paris and features some 40 photographs, all drawn from the Museum’s collection. Known as the “City of Light” even before the birth of the medium in 1839, Paris has been muse to many of the most celebrated photographers, from Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (one of the field’s inventors) and Nadar to Charles Marville, Eugène Atget, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The show focuses primarily on architectural views, street scenes, and interiors. It explores the physical shape and texture of Paris and how artists have found poetic ways to record its essential qualities using the camera.”

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris) 'Nôtre Dame' 1922

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Nôtre Dame
1922
Albumen silver print from glass negative
18.2 x 22.1 cm (7 1/8 x 8 11/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joseph M. Cohen Gift, 2005

 

Atget likely avoided Nôtre Dame during his early career as it was already well documented by other photographers. In his old age, however, he worked more for his own pleasure and during the last five years of his life photographed the cathedral regularly. He always viewed it in an eccentric way – either in the distance, as here, or in detail.

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris) 'Quai d'Anjou, 6h du matin' 1924

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Quai d’Anjou, 6h du matin
1924
Albumen silver print from glass negative
17.7 x 22.8 cm (6 15/16 x 8 15/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, William Talbott Hillman Foundation Gift, 2005

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris) 'Untitled [Atget's Work Room with Contact Printing Frames]' c. 1910

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Untitled [Atget’s Work Room with Contact Printing Frames]
c. 1910
Albumen silver print from glass negative
20.9 x 17.3 cm. (8 1/4 x 6 13/16 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1990

 

This straightforward study by Atget of his own work room offers a rare glimpse of the inner sanctum of an auteur éditeur, as he described his profession. On the table are the wooden frames the photographer used to contact print his glass negatives; at right are several bins of negatives stacked vertically; below the table are his chemical trays; on the shelves above are stacks of paper albums – a shelf label reads escaliers et grilles (staircases and grills). Atget used these homemade albums to organize his vast picture collection from which he sold views of old Paris to clients.

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris) 'Untitled [Atget's Work Room with Contact Printing Frames]' c. 1910 (detail)

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Untitled [Atget’s Work Room with Contact Printing Frames] (detail)
c. 1910
Albumen silver print from glass negative
20.9 x 17.3 cm. (8 1/4 x 6 13/16 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1990

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris) 'Marchand de Vin, Rue Boyer, Paris' 1910-11

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Marchand de Vin, Rue Boyer, Paris
1910-11
Albumen silver print from glass negative
21.5 x 17.6 cm (8 7/16 x 6 15/16 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joseph M. Cohen Gift, 2005

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris) 'Boulevard de Strasbourg, Corsets, Paris' 1912

 

Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857-1927 Paris)
Boulevard de Strasbourg, Corsets, Paris
1912
Gelatin silver print from glass negative
22.4 x 17.5 cm (8 13/16 x 6 7/8 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection
Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005

 

Atget found his vocation in photography in 1897, at the age of forty, after having been a merchant seaman, a minor actor, and a painter. He became obsessed with making what he termed “documents for artists” of Paris and its environs and compiling a visual compendium of the architecture, landscape, and artifacts that distinguish French culture and history. By the end of his life, Atget had amassed an archive of more than eight thousand negatives, which he organized into such categories as Parisian Interiors, Vehicles in Paris, and Petits Métiers (trades and professions).

In Atget’s inventory of Paris, shop windows figure prominently and the most arresting feature mannequin displays. In the 1920s the Surrealists recognized in Atget a kindred spirit and reproduced a number of his photographs in their journals and reviews. Antiquated mannequins such as the ones depicted here struck them as haunting, dreamlike analogues to the human form.

 

Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat (French, 1815-1858) Stanislas Ratel (French, 1824-1904) 'Untitled [The Pavillon de Flore and the Tuileries Gardens]' 1849

 

Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat (French, 1815-1858)
Stanislas Ratel (French, 1824-1904)
Untitled [The Pavillon de Flore and the Tuileries Gardens]
1849
Daguerreotype
15.2 x 18.7 cm (6 x 7 3/8 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

 

Taken in September 1849 from a window of the École des Beaux-Arts, this daguerreotype exhibits the dazzling exactitude and presence that characterize these mirrors of reality. True to the daguerreotype’s potential, stationary objects are rendered with remarkable precision; under magnification one can clearly discern minute architectural details on the Pavillon de Flore, features of statuary and potted trees in the Tuileries Gardens, even the chimney pots on the buildings in the background along the rue de Rivoli.

Daguerre himself had chosen a nearly identical vantage point in 1839 for one of his earliest demonstration pieces, and it may well have been with that archetypal image in mind that Choiselat and Ratel made this large daguerreotype a decade later. Choiselat and Ratel, among the earliest practitioners to utilize and improve upon Daguerre’s process, first published their methods for enhancing the sensitivity of the daguerreotype plate in 1840 and had achieved exposure times of under two seconds by 1843. Unlike Daguerre’s long exposure, which failed to record the presence of moving figures, this image includes people (albeit slightly blurred) outside the garden gates, on the Pont Royal, and peering over the quai wall above the floating warm-bath establishment moored in the Seine. Still more striking is the dramatic rendering of the cloud-laden sky, achieved by the innovative technique of masking the upper portion of the plate partway through the exposure.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877) 'The Boulevards at Paris' May-June 1843

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
The Boulevards at Paris
May-June 1843
Salted paper print from paper negative
15.1 x 19.9 cm (5 15/16 x 7 13/16 in. )
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

 

Talbot traveled to Paris in May 1843 to negotiate a licensing agreement for the French rights to his patented calotype process and, with Henneman, to give first hand instruction in its use to the licensee, the Marquis of Bassano.

No doubt excited to be traveling on the continent with a photographic camera for the first time, Talbot seized upon the chance to fulfill the fantasy he had first imagined on the shores of Lake Como ten years before. Although his business arrangements ultimately yielded no gain, Talbot’s views of the elegant new boulevards of the French capital are highly successful, a lively balance to the studied pictures made at Lacock Abbey. Filled with the incidental details of urban life, architectural ornamentation, and the play of spring light, this photograph, unlike much of the earlier work, is not a demonstration piece but rather a picture of the real world. The animated roofline punctuated with chimney pots, the deep shopfront awning, the line of waiting horse and carriages, the postered kiosks, and the characteristically French shuttered windows all evoke as vivid a notion of mid-nineteenth-century Paris now as they must have when Talbot first showed the photographs to his friends and family in England.

A variant of this scene, taken from a higher floor in Talbot’s Paris hotel, appeared as plate 2 in The Pencil of Nature.

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, Hoboken, New Jersey 1864–1946 New York) 'A Snapshot, Paris' 1911, printed 1912

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, Hoboken, New Jersey 1864–1946 New York)
A Snapshot, Paris
1911, printed 1912
Photogravure
13.8 x 17.4 cm. (5 7/16 x 6 7/8 in.)
Gift of J. B. Neumann, 1958

 

Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Stieglitz trained to be an engineer in Germany and moved to New York in 1890. His lifelong ambition as an artist (and advocate for the arts) was to prove that photography was as capable of artistic expression as painting or sculpture. As the editor of Camera Notes, the journal of the Camera Club of New York, and then later Camera Work (1902-17), Stieglitz espoused his belief in the aesthetic potential of the medium. He published work by photographers who shared his conviction alongside European modernists such as Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, and Francis Picabia.

 

Michel Seuphor (Belgian, born 1901) 'Paris' 1929

 

Michel Seuphor (Belgian, born 1901)
Paris
1929
Gelatin silver print
11.4 x 16.4 cm. (4 1/2 x 6 7/16 in.)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1994
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

The Belgian painter, poet, designer, and art critic Seuphor moved to Paris in 1925 and entered the artistic community of such expatriate artists as Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and Theo van Doesburg. Little is known about his work with the camera except that this photograph was made the year Seuphor founded Cercle et Carré (Circle and Square), a group dedicated to abstraction that would include Kandinsky, Mondrian, Jean Arp, Kurt Schwitters, and Le Corbusier.

 

Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat (French, 1815-1858) Stanislas Ratel (French, 1824-1904) 'Défilé sur le Pont-Royal' May 1, 1844

 

Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat (French, 1815-1858)
Stanislas Ratel (French, 1824-1904)
Défilé sur le Pont-Royal
May 1, 1844
Daguerreotype
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005

 

In January 1839 the Romantic painter and printmaker Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) showed members of the French Académie des Sciences an invention he believed would forever change visual representation: photography. Each daguerreotype (as Daguerre dubbed his invention) is an image produced on a highly polished, silver-plated sheet of copper.

Using an “accelerating liquid” of their own devising, the daguerreotypists Choiselat and Ratel were able to reduce exposure times from minutes to seconds, which allowed them to capture events as they happened. Here the mounted guards stationed along one of Paris’s most famous bridges registered clearly on the daguerreotype plate, but even with a short exposure time the moving crowds and rolling carriages became a blur of activity.

 

Charles Marville (French, Paris 1813–1879 Paris) 'Rue Traversine (from the Rue d'Arras)' c. 1868

 

Charles Marville (French, Paris 1813–1879 Paris)
Rue Traversine (from the Rue d’Arras)
c. 1868
Albumen silver print from glass negative
34.8 x 27.5 cm (13 11/16 x 10 13/16 in. )
Gift of Howard Stein, 2010

 

Brassaï (French (born Romania), Brașov 1899-1984 Côte d'Azur) 'Street Fair, Boulevard St. Jacques, Paris' 1931

 

Brassaï (French (born Romania), Brașov 1899-1984 Côte d’Azur)
Street Fair, Boulevard St. Jacques, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
22.9 x 17.1 cm (9 x 6 3/4 in.)
Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2007
© The Estate of Brassai

 

Born in Transylvania, Gyula Halász studied painting and sculpture in Hungary and moved to Paris in 1924 to work as a journalist. About 1930 he changed his name to Brassaï and took up photography. The camera became a constant companion on his nightly walks through the city’s seamier quarters, where he aimed his lens at showgirls, prostitutes, ragpickers, transvestites, and other inhabitants of the demimonde. His first and most famous book of photographs, Paris de nuit (Paris by Night), published in 1933, includes a variation of this scene of three masked women tempting men into a sideshow.

 

Edward J. Steichen (American (born Luxembourg), Bivange 1879-1973 West Redding, Connecticut) 'Untitled [Brancusi's Studio]' c. 1920

 

Edward J. Steichen (American (born Luxembourg), Bivange 1879-1973 West Redding, Connecticut)
Untitled [Brancusi’s Studio]
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print
24.4 x 19.4 cm (9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in.)
Gift of Grace M. Mayer, 1992
Reprinted with permission of Joanna T. Steichen.

 

Steichen lived in Paris on and off from 1900 to 1924, making paintings and photographs. A cofounder with Alfred Stieglitz of the Photo-Secession, Steichen offered his former New York studio to the fledgling organization as an exhibition space in 1905. Known first as the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession and later simply by its address on Fifth Avenue, 291, the gallery introduced modern French art to America through the works of Rodin, Matisse, Cézanne, and, in 1914, Constantin Brancusi.

Steichen and Brancusi, who met at Rodin’s studio, became lifelong friends. This view of a corner of Brancusi’s studio on the impasse Roncin shows several identifiable works, including Cup (1917) and Endless Column (1918). The photograph’s centerpiece is the elegant polished bronze Golden Bird (1919), which soars above the other forms. Distinct from Brancusi’s studio photographs – subjective meditations on his own creations – Steichen’s view is more orchestrated, geometric, and objective. Golden Bird is centered, the light modulated, and the constellation of masses carefully balanced in the space defined by the camera. A respectful acknowledgment of the essential abstraction of the sculpture, the photograph seems decidedly modern and presages the formal studio photographs Steichen made in the service of Vanity Fair and Vogue beginning in 1923.

 

 

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16
Feb
14

Review / Text: ‘Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th October 2013 – 2nd March 2014

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This is a sublime exhibition, teaming as it does fabulous frocks and beautiful, classical, evanescent photographs. The exhibition was in my top nine magnificent Melbourne exhibitions that featured on Art Blart last year. Elegant, sophisticated and oozing quality, this exhibition has been a sure fire winner for the NGV. This review will concentrate on the photographs by Edward Steichen. See my previous posting on the exhibition including installation photographs.

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model-dinarzade-in-a-dress-by-poiret-edward-steichen

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Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Model Dinarzade in a Dress by Poiret
1924
Gelatin silver photograph

Image used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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steichen-clara-bow-WEB

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Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Actress Clara Bow for Vanity Fair
1928
Vintage silver gelatin print
Block Museum, Gift of the Hollander Family in Honor of Morton and Mimi Schapiro
Steichen / Condé Nast Archive; © Condé Nast

Image used under fair use for the purpose of art criticism

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High Society

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Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was a painter and champion of art photography who initially worked in the soft focus, Pictorialist style prevalent at the beginning of the 20th century. He was an artist who worked closely with Alfred Stieglitz on the influential quarterly art journal Camera Work, designing the cover and the Art Nouveau-style typeface especially for the internationally focused publication. Stieglitz, and by extension Camera Work, lived to promote photography as an art form and to challenge the norms of how art may be defined.1 In the early years Camera Work only published photography, but in later years the journal increasingly featured reproductions of and articles on modern painting, drawing and aesthetics.

“This change was brought about by a similar transformation at Stieglitz’s New York gallery, which had been known as the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession until 1908. That year he changed the name of the gallery to “291”, and he began showing avant-garde modern artists such as Auguste Rodin and Henri Matisse along with photographers. The positive responses he received at the gallery encouraged Stieglitz to broaden the scope of Camera Work as well, although he decided against any name change for the journal.”2

Steichen was heavily associated with Gallery 291 (291 Fifth Avenue, New York City) which ran from 1905 to 1917. The gallery exhibited European artists such as Braque, Picasso, Matisse, Brancussi, Cézanne and Rodin and soon to be famous American artists such as John MarinMax WeberArthur DoveMarsden Hartley and Georgia O’Keeffe. Virtually no other gallery in the United States was showing modern art works with such abstract and dynamic content at this time.3 Both the gallery and the journal ran hand in hand; both closed in 1917. The journal closed due to a downturn in interest in Pictorial photography, a lack of subscribers, cultural changes and the economic effects of the First World War, which saw both the costs and even the availability of the paper on which it was printed become challenging.4 In the penultimate issue 48 (October 1916) Stieglitz,

” …introduced the work of a young photographer, Paul Strand, whose photographic vision was indicative of the aesthetic changes now at the heart of Camera Work’s demise. Strand shunned the soft focus and symbolic content of the Pictorialists and instead strived to create a new vision that found beauty in the clear lines and forms of ordinary objects. By publishing Strand’s work Stieglitz was hastening the end of the aesthetic vision he had championed for so long. Nine months later, in June 1917, what was to be the final issue of Camera Work appeared. It was devoted almost entirely to Strand’s photographs.”5

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Edward Steichen felt the change in the air. When he accepted the job as chief photographer for Condé Nast publications in 1923 his early fashion photographs for Vogue and Vanity Fair were seen as innovative and ground breaking, even as his former art colleagues saw shooting fashion and celebrities was a way of selling-out. Steichen bought to fashion and portrait photography an aesthetic of clear lines and forms that simply had not been present before, coupled with a Pictorialist sensibility for light and the use of low depth of field. John McDonald in his excellent review of the exhibition observes, “Steichen has claims to having invented fashion photography with a series of pictures he took in Paris in 1911, for couturier, Paul Poiret; but the genre had found its first true professional in Baron Adolphe de Meyer, who left Vogue for Harper’s Bazaar, opening the door for Steichen’s appointment. De Meyer was an incurable mannerist who remained true to the Pictorialist aesthetic, but his successor would prove himself an innovator.”6

Steichen’s photographs from 1923-1924 are pared back, Modernist photographs that evidence the beginning of his later photographic style. Madame Nadine Vera wearing a crêpe evening gown by Chanel (1924) has a plain background of some wooden studio panels; Model Dinarzade in a Dress by Poiret (1924, above) has fabric hanging behind while Crêpe de chine dress by Lanvin (1924) has three doors casually put together to form the backdrop to the model. All three photographs show beautiful tonality and lighting in the full length capture of the models with hints of browns and yellows in the prints. The figure is isolated in the studio space simply and elegantly. The model is being studied. Steichen’s models are immersed in suffused light but the form of the photograph is different from that of Pictorialism, for the models themselves are pin sharp, as though stepping out into the world. These early photographs are fascinating to study, for they lay the ground work for what is to follow. These three images inform the viewer as to the experimentation that Steichen was undertaking to get to a starting point for the complex and atmospheric studio lighting that he would later employ.

Gradually, Steichen’s images become more confident and assured and take on a patina of beauty, style and grace. In his close-up portraits there is an isolation of the face against out of focus backgrounds with the use of profiles, arms and elbows as framing devices, for example Actress Sylvia Sidney (1929) and Actress Clara Bow (1928, above). In his longer-length portraits there is an isolation of figures against a white or black ground, as in Marion Morehouse in a dress by Louise Boulanger (1929) and Actresses Norma and Constance Talmadge (1927). Males usually have a heavy darkness to them while the females are more luminously lit. In the male portraits the hands dominate. The hands in the male photographs belong to the male as part of the portrait whereas in the early photographs of women they are only models, there at his command, and the hands are almost invisible. Only in the later photographs of high society women are the hands of females fully represented. What can be observed is that the figure is usually isolated against an out of focus background, with deep, dark shadows and soft luxurious light, low depth of field and feminine profiles.

In commercial terms (and we must remember that this is how the artist made his living for these photographs were seen as his commercial work at the time), Steichen’s photographs fulfilled his brief: the portrayal of shimmer and sparkle, geometric Art Deco style, the drama and theatrical lighting of the talkies, and the spectacle of the liberated modern women. She in turn was influenced by the prevalent cultural conditions: smoking, jazz, prohibition, automobiles, trains, dancing, fast living, gold (King Tuts tomb was discovered in 1922) and African and Japanese art. Appealing to the new leisure classes, publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair offered a glimpse of a longed for paradise to the burgeoning middle-classes with their photographs of the rich and famous, the glamour and the costumes – the social groups that hold the most power actually exposing their own status on paper through these magazines.

As John McDonald notes, “Steichen uses every trick at his disposal to convey a particular kind of image,”7 an image that uses increasingly elaborate studio lighting and disparate indoor and outdoor locations. But by the early 1930s the work becomes quite formulaic with its use of low depth of field, profiles, angles of arms or chairs and geometric shapes. The figure is tightly controlled – either cropped close in or set amongst ambiguously filled sets and shaped backgrounds. There is a sameness and repetitiveness about the work as one image bleeds into another. In fact, after that early period of experimentation, there is basically no change to his mature style from the years 1925-1937 and this makes for a long twelve years for an artist of his talent. He found his mother load and he stuck to it.

Steichen’s photographs of the rich and famous are “pictures” taken by one who mingled with the elite, one who enjoyed the trappings of fame and high society. As Robert Nelson notes in his review of the exhibition, “Steichen’s talents were never incompatible with the conspicuous snobbery of his age, for which it would never have occurred to him to proffer an apology. Having arrived himself, he naturally admires gentry-by-ambition and crowns it with the smugness that it enjoys.”8 Ouch! Nelson goes on to observe, “Much of the work is statuesque and formidable in its composition, lighting and symbolic rigour,” while at the same time portraying a world that is completely artificial in which nothing is real and everything is a pose.9 And we, the viewer and reader, are voyeurs of this hedonistic world.

On close reading, the photographs flatten out into a studied set of stylistic maneuvers, a form where style stands in for a quality of visual perception.10 As Steichen seeks to “clinch the image” the syntax of his photographs (the system of organisation used in putting lines together to form pictures) becomes imitative. This leads to evanescent photographs, images that soon pass out of sight, memory, or existence; images that slip for the mind as quickly as one sees them. There is little sense of dislocation in the images, only “in his ability to distance himself from a subject, analysing his or her foibles with a cool, practiced eye,”11 and in the distance of the scene from the reality of everyday life. Each photograph becomes a microcosm of vanity, celebrity and fashion. Steichen ticks all the boxes (and he made all the boxes that he ticked) but the photographs usually don’t fulfil any new demands that the situation generates. He restricts his field of view to one that he creates and controls within certain narrowly defined boundaries, usually using passive people who are at his command. In his orientation to the world the photographs are not ‘things as they are’ but things as they are constructed to be (seen) – a form of social capital, social fascism, even.12

Only when Steichen is challenged by an active “personality” does he raise his game. This is when the modernist, emotive, visually rhapsodic AND MEMORABLE photographs take hold in this exhibition. The great breakthrough with Greta Garbo (1929, below), mass of black with face surmounting, hair pulled back by hands “the woman came out full beauty on her magnificent face” Steichen said; Actress Gloria Swanson (1924, below) like some prowling, wide-eyed animal hidden behind a black lace veil, “a predatory femme fatale concealing her ambitions behind a mask of beauty”13; Marlene Dietrich (1934, below) nestled into the glorious curve of an armchair, lace-covered hand open, inviting; and Actress Loretta Young (1931) active, not passive, in which Steichen humanises his sitter. For me, these are the glorious images – not the men, not the fashion photographs, but these strong, independent women.

“An interested image-maker takes available resources for meaning (visual grammars, fabrication techniques and focal points of attention), undertakes an act of designing (the process of image-making), and in so doing re-images the world in a way that it has never quite been seen before.”14 Initially, in the early experimentation, this is what Steichen did; he achieves it again in the photographs of Garbo, Swanson, Dietrich and Young. As for the other photographs we feel an overall suffused glow of beauty and glamour – we admire their scale and intensity, the deep blacks and velvety whites, and wonder at the light and assemblage of elements – but they do not have the power and engagement of the best, most challenging work. In these photographs of vibrant women the viewer finally starts to feel the spirit of the face, the spirit of the person captured in an instant. And that is a rare and beautiful thing.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

Word count: 1,883

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Endnotes

1. Whelan, Richard. Alfred Stieglitz: A Biography. NY: Little, Brown, 1995, pp. 189-223
2. Anon. “Camera Work,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
3. Anon. “291,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
4. “Camera Work,” op. cit.,
5. Hoffman, Katherine. Stieglitz : A Beginning Light. New Haven: Yale University Press Studio, 2004,  pp. 213–222 cited in “Camera Work,” op. cit.,
6. McDonald, John. “Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion” on John McDonald website February 1, 2014 [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
7. Ibid.,
8. Nelson, Robert. “An age of elegance captured forever,” in The Age newspaper Wednesday November 6th, 2013, p. 54
9. Ibid.,
10. Rewording of a sentence by Sleigh, Tom. “Too Much of the Air: Tomas Tranströmer,” 2005, on the Poets.org website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
11. McDonald, op. cit.,
12. “In sociology, social capital is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups. Although different social sciences emphasise different aspects of social capital, they tend to share the core idea “that social networks have value”.”
Anon. “Social capital,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
“Social fascism was a theory supported by the Communist International (Comintern) during the early 1930s, which held that social democracy was a variant of fascism because, in addition to a shared corporatist economic model, it stood in the way of a complete and final transition to communism.”
Anon. “Social fascism,” on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014
13. McDonald, op. cit.,
14. Anon. “The Image of Transformation: Properties of Consequence,” on The Image website [Online] Cited 15/02/2014

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23  Actress 'Gloria Swanson' 1924

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Gloria Swanson
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Steichen’s portrait of Gloria Swanson has taken on iconic masterpiece status overtime. Created in 1924, just as the first feature-length sound movies were emerging – effectively truncating the actress’s brilliant silent-film career – this image caught the essential Gloria Swanson: haunting and inscrutable, forever veiled in the whisper of a distant era. Steichen’s photograph has elements of turn-of-the-century pictorialism (moody and delicate, the subject seeming to peer from the darkness, as if from jungle foliage), yet it also projects modernist boldness, with its pin-sharp precision and graphic severity. (Text from Iconic Photos website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Dancers Leonore Hughes and Maurice Mouvet' 1924

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Dancers Leonore Hughes and Maurice Mouvet
1924
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Maurice Mouvet was one of the most famous and successful dance teams around the early 1910’s and lead the way for many performers that would follow… Maurice was born in New York but as a young lad moved to Paris with his father and knew he wanted to be a dancer as a young boy. He had his first professional dance at the Noveau Cirque in Paris, France at age 15. Mouvet’s best partners were Florence Walton and Leonora (Leona) Hughes.

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Actress Paula Negri' 1925

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Paula Negri
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Pola Negri (née Apolonia Chałupiec, January 3, 1897 – 1 August 1987) was a Polish stage and film actress who achieved worldwide fame during the silent and golden eras of Hollywood and European film for her tragedienne and femme fatale roles. She was the first European film star to be invited to Hollywood, and become one of the most popular actresses in American silent film. She also started several important women’s fashion trends that are still staples of the women’s fashion industry. Her varied career included work as an actress in theater and vaudeville; as a singer and recording artist; as an author; and as a ballerina. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Tamaris with a large Art Deco scarf' 1925

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Tamaris with a large Art Deco scarf
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Model wearing a black tulle headdress by Suzanne Talbot and a brocade coat with black fox collar' 1925

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Model wearing a black tulle headdress by Suzanne Talbot and a brocade coat with black fox collar
1925
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Actor Gary Cooper' 1930

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actor Gary Cooper
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Marion Morehouse and unidentified model wearing dresses by Vionnet' 1930

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Marion Morehouse and unidentified model wearing dresses by Vionnet
1930
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Marion Morehouse (1906-1969), was a fashion model who rose to prominance in the late 20s and early 30s, sitting for Vanity Fair and Vogue photographer Edward Steichen. The pair created some strikingly modernist photographs. According to Steichen Morehouse was:

“The greatest fashion model I ever photographed …. When she put on the clothes that were to be photographed, she transformed herself into a woman who really would wear that gown … whatever the outfit was.”

She was also a favorite of Cecil Beaton and French Vogue’s Baron George Hoyningen-Huene. Morehouse was of Choctaw Indian ancestry, with brown eyes and an angular frame. After her modeling career ended, she took up photography herself. Later she became the third wife of author and painter E.E Cummings. When Cummings met Marion Morehouse in 1932, he was in the middle of a painful split from his second wife, Anne Barton. Although it is not clear whether the two were ever formally married, Morehouse lived with Cummings in a common-law marriage until his death in 1962. Morehouse died on May 18, 1969. (Text from the Photographs, film, literature & quotes from the bygone era website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Olympic diver Katherine Rawls' 1931

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Olympic diver Katherine Rawls
1931
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Katherine Louise Rawls (June 14, 1917 – April 8, 1982) was a multiple United States national champion in swimming and diving in the 1930s.

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 Model 'Dorothy Smart wearing a black velvet hat by Madame Agnès' 1926

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Model Dorothy Smart wearing a black velvet hat by Madame Agnès
1926
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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France’s most popular milliner Madame Agnes was born in France in the late 1800’s, she retired in 1949, and died a short while later. She was famous for cutting the brims of her hats while they were worn by her customers. Madame Agnes styled hats which were both abstract and unique. An illustration from 1927 depicts Madame Agnes’ Congo inspired hats with a model wearing a slave collar. As the 20’s moved into the 30’s, the hats became smaller and away from the face. In December 1935 she introduced hats with large straw brims which were mounted on flowered madras handkerchiefs. Madame Agnes was inspired by a matador’s hat when she created a small dinner hat for Spring 1936. It was sewn of black maline with heavy white silk fringe. The fringe was mounted on each side of the hat’s top. In mid-1946 she created a soft beige beret of felt which featured a line that was broken just above the right eyebrow, where a soft quill was inserted. (Text from the Photographs, film, literature & quotes from the bygone era website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'On George Baher's yacht' 1928

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
On George Baher’s yacht. June Cox wearing unidentified fashion; E. Vogt wearing fashion by Chanel and a hat by Reboux; Lee Miller wearing a dress by Mae and Hattie Green and a scarf by Chanel; Hanna-Lee Sherman wearing unidentified fashion
1928
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Elizabeth “Lee” Miller, Lady Penrose (April 23, 1907 – July 21, 1977) was an American photographer. Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907, she was a successful fashion model in New York City in the 1920s before going to Paris, where she became an established fashion and fine art photographer. During the Second World War, she became an acclaimed war correspondent for Vogue, covering events such as the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris, and the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Marlene Dietrich' 1934

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Marlene Dietrich
1934
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Greta Garbo' 1929

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Greta Garbo
1929
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 Actress 'Joan Crawford in a dress by Schiaparelli' 1932

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Joan Crawford in a dress by Schiaparelli
1932
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was an Italian fashion designer. Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the two World Wars. Starting with knitwear, Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Alberto Giacometti. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West.

Perhaps Schiaparelli’s most important legacy was in bringing to fashion the playfulness and sense of “anything goes” of the Dada and Surrealist movements. She loved to play with juxtapositions of colours, shapes and textures, and embraced the new technologies and materials of the time. With Charles Colcombet she experimented with acrylic, cellophane, a rayon jersey called “Jersela” and a rayon with metal threads called “Fildifer” – the first time synthetic materials were used in couture. Some of these innovations were not pursued further, like her 1934 “glass” cape made from Rhodophane, a transparent plastic related to cellophane. But there were more lasting innovations; Schiaparelli created wraparound dresses decades before Diane von Furstenberg and crumpled up rayon 50 years before Issey Miyake’s pleats and crinkles. In 1930 alone she created the first evening-dress with a jacket, and the first clothes with visible zippers. In fact fastenings were something of a speciality, from a jacket buttoned with silver tambourines to one with silk-covered carrots and cauliflowers. Schiaparelli did not adapt to the changes in fashion following World War II and her business closed in 1954. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'White (center Gwili André)' 1935

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
White (center Gwili André)
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Gwili Andre (4 February 1908 – 5 February 1959) was a Danish actress who had a brief career in Hollywood films. Andre came to Hollywood in the early 1930s with the intention of establishing herself as a film star. She appeared in the 1932 RKO Studio films Roar of the Dragon and Secrets of the French Police and began to attract attention for her striking good looks. These films provided her with starring roles playing against such established actors as Richard Dix, ZaSu Pitts and Frank Morgan, and RKO began using her glamorous looks to promote her.

A widespread publicity campaign ensured that her name and face became well known to the American public, but her next role in No Other Woman (1933), opposite Irene Dunne, was not the success the studio expected. Over the next few years she was relegated to supporting roles which included the Joan Crawford picture A Woman’s Face (1941). Her final role was a minor part in one of the popular Falcon series, The Falcon’s Brother in 1942. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Actress Mary Heberden' 1935

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Actress Mary Heberden
1935
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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American actress Mary Heberden made her first New York stage appearance in 1925 and performed regulary on Broadway in the 1930s.

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23 'Charlie Chaplin' 1934

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Edward Steichen American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23
Charlie Chaplin
1934
Gelatin silver photograph
Courtesy Condé Nast Archive
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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