A photographer establishes a relationship, an intimate relationship between himself and whatever he is photographing, whether it is a can of beans, a landscape or Greta Garbo … I was coming to realize that the real magician (in photography) was light itself —mysterious and ever-changing light with its accompanying shadows, rich and full of mystery.
– Edward Steichen, photographer (1879 – 1973)
Born in Luxembourg in 1879, Edward Steichen rose to become one of the most influential photographer of the 20th century. He was a photographer whose work spanned the gamut, from fashion, industrial, nature to war, portrait to commercial. His portraits of Gershwin, Garbo, Eugene O’Neill, Marlene Dietrich, Chaplin and George M. Cohan are the definitive images by which we remember those celebrated artists.
Steichen is also known for his famous “Family of Man” exhibition which he curated as director of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)’s Department of Photography. The exhibition of 503 pictures by 273 artists from 68 countries was first shown in 1955 from January 24 to May 8 at MoMA, then toured the world for 8 years to record-breaking audience numbers. An immersive installation of monochrome prints, the exhibition was grouped by themes thought common across all cultures: birth, love, labor, joy, and others. The roster of photographers included many unknown artists, as well as some that have gone on to achieve legendary status. Among them are Elliott Erwitt, W. Eugene Smith, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Nina Leen. Commenting on its appeal, Steichen said the people “looked at the pictures, and the people in the pictures looked back at them. They recognized each other.”
Selected works of Edward Steichen
This half-hour documentary of Steichen was shot in 1964, when he reflected on his long life and many achievements. “Photography,” he says, “is both ridiculously easy and impossibly difficult.”