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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Edward Steichen

Other: Eduard J. Steichen 
Other: Eduard Jean Steichen 
Other: Edward Jean Steichen 
Dates:  1879, 27 March - 1973, 25 March
Born:  Luxembourg
Died:  US, CT, West Redding
Active:  US
American painter and photographer born in Luxembourg. His career was varied with outstanding pictorialist work and a close relationship with the Photo-Secession movement of Alfred Stieglitz, interspersed with periods of photographic experimentation and military photographic work in both the First and Second World Wars. From 1947 to 1962 he was the Director of Photography at MoMA in New York and was responsible for the 1955 ‘Family of Man‘ exhibition. He embraced every form of photography, abstract, straight, advertising and fashion, bringing his huge enthusiasm and energy to bear to enhance photography as a career, as an art form and as a Museum specialty.
[With contributions from Pam Roberts]

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Edward Steichen
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Steichen, one of this country’s most recognized twentieth-century photographers, led a long and varied career in the field. He was a practitioner, working in many genres after giving up pictorialism around 1915, and a curator, organizing exhibitions at the Museum of Modern of Art, New York.
Eduard Jean Steichen was born on March 27, 1879, in the small European country of Luxembourg. Two years later, he immigrated with his family to the United States and settled in Michigan. From 1889, he lived in Milwaukee, where he served a one-year apprenticeship at the American Fine Art Company, a lithographic printing firm. He helped organize the Milwaukee Art Students’ League in 1897 and served as its first president.
After photographing for about four years, Steichen burst upon the American photographic scene in 1899, when he exhibited three particularly impressionistic pictures in the second Philadelphia Photographic Salon. He was determined to be an artist, and the next year set out for Europe to continue his studies. Stopping in New York on the way, he met Alfred Stieglitz, who purchased three of his pictorial photographs.
For the next few years, Steichen lived in Paris, where he painted and made photographic portraits of famous writers and artists, such as August Rodin. His photographs were included in the 1900 London and 1901 Paris showings of the New School of American Photography, organized by F. Holland Day. In 1901, he was elected to membership in the Linked Ring Brotherhood, England’s most advanced order of photographers. In addition, his paintings were seen in Paris in the 1901 salon and the next year in a one-person exhibition at La Maison des Artistes.
In 1902, Steichen returned to New York and set up a portrait studio. The same year, he became a founding member of the Photo-Secession, Stieglitz’s elite cadre of artistic photographers, when his work was included in the group’s inaugural show at New York’s National Arts Club. Stieglitz featured Steichen’s work in all of the Secession’s subsequent museum exhibitions, occurring in 1904 at the Carnegie Institute (Pittsburgh) and Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), in 1906 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (Philadelphia), and in 1910 at the Albright Art Gallery (Buffalo).
Steichen’s artistic and printing background led him to design the cover of Stieglitz’s new quarterly, Camera Work, in 1903. Over the next fifteen years, Steichen was privileged to have more of his work seen in the magazine than any other pictorialist, usually as high-quality photogravures. Stieglitz devoted three full issues to his work, in 1903, 1906, and 1913. In 1905, Steichen also helped Stieglitz establish the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which later became known as 291, for its address on Fifth Avenue. There, Steichen’s photographs were featured in an unmatched four solo shows, in 1906, 1908, 1909, and 1910. His work was also seen at major pictorial presentations in this country and internationally throughout the first decade of the century. Making primarily landscapes and portraits during this time, he used a variety of photographic printing processes, like platinum and gum bichromate, as well as Lumière Autochrome plates, which created softly focused, color transparencies.
From 1906 to the outbreak of World War I, Steichen resided again in Paris, where he continued to both paint and photograph. From there, he secured the work of such avant-garde artists as Rodin, Henri Matisse, and Paul Cézanne for their first American showings, at 291. During the war, he served in the U.S. Army, helping establish its department of aviation photography.
In 1923, shortly after giving up painting with a ritualistic burning of many canvases, Steichen returned to New York. For the next fifteen years, he was the chief photographer for Condé Nast, his pioneering fashion work appearing in the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair. He also performed advertising work for the J. Walter Thompson Agency and became the world’s most well-compensated professional photographer.
Steichen retired from commercial work in 1938, but during World War II directed all U.S. Naval photography. In 1947, he was appointed director of the curatorial department of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Among the important exhibitions he organized there over the next fifteen years was the Family of Man, perhaps the most widely traveled photography show ever.
In 1963, a year after leaving the museum, Steichen was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and issued his autobiography, A Life in Photography. He died ten years later in West Redding Connecticut, on March 25, 1973, two days shy of his ninety-fourth birthday. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Biography provided by Focal Press 
A pivotal figure in the growth of creative photography in America, Steichen was one of the founders, with Steiglitz, of the Photo-Secession (1902) and The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (known as 291) in New York. Introducing the modernist work of Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, and Rodin to America with debut exhibits at 291, he was also a frequent contributor to Stieglitz’ Camera Work magazine. He produced images of rich tonal depth and romantic sensibility; his early pictorialist use of manipulated gum and pigment printing processes were abandoned for a more precise, pragmatic style. His stylized fashion and celebrity images of the 1920s, published frequently in Vanity Fair and Vogue, were notable for their simple, theatrical settings; dramatic lighting and architectonic backdrops; and had an aura of impersonal cosmopolitan elegance. Shaped by his entrepreneurial spirit and his infatuation with celebrity and prestige, Steichen’s career flourished as Director of Photography for Condé Nast publications (1923–1938). His career, twice punctuated with army and navy combat photographic service during both world wars, eventually led to the museum world. One of his most celebrated achievements came as Director of the Photography Department, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1947–1962) with his marketing of large themed exhibitions of photography, including the hugely popular The Family of Man (1955). 
(Author: Garie Waltzer - Photographer and consultant) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

Further research

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Yousuf Karsh
Edward Steichen (1879-1973) 
1967 (taken) 1988, September (before, print)
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Visual indexes

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Supplemental information


Edward Steichen
Luxembourg-born American, 1879-1973

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 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. 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 he 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 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 he 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 he 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.
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 

Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.] Go to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography. Go to website

Internet resources

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Edward Steichen Archive in The Museum of Modern Art Archives ... 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.110 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.484-486 
• Fernandez, Horacio (ed.) 2000 Fotografía Pública: Photography in Print 1919-1939 (Aldeasa) p.228 [This Spanish exhibition catalogue is one of the best sources for illustrations of photomontage and book design for the period between the two World Wars.] 
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.228 [Includes a well written short biography on Edward Steichen with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.467 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.241-242 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Bauret, Gabriel (ed. and text) 2001 Color Photography (New York: Assouline) [Includes example color photographs by Edward Steichen] 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.261 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.117, 119 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Edward Steichen are included in this classic history.] 
• Sobieszek, Robert A. and Deborah Irmas 1994 the camera i: Photographic Self-Portraits (Los Angeles: LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art) p.232, Plate 15 [When the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection was donated to LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992 the museum gained a remarkable collection of self portraits of notable photographers. If you need a portrait of Edward Steichen this is a useful starting point.] 
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.76 [Analyzes a single photograph by Edward Steichen.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Edward Steichen was represented in 91 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
Library of Congress, Washington, USA 
Approximate number of records: ? 
Note: A single record may contain more than one photograph.
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The wit and wisdom.

"Every other artist begins with a blank canvas, a piece of paper the photographer begins with the finished product."
"I knew, of course, that trees and plants had roots, stems, bark, branches and foliage that reached up toward the light. But I was coming to realize that the real magician was light itself."
"No photographer is as good as the simplest camera."
"Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things."
"Photography is a major force in explaining man to man."
"Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man."
"Then, ye wise men; ye jabbering button-pushers! Then shall ye indeed make merry, offering incense and sacrifice upon the only original alter of true photography, Then shall the fakers slink of in dismay into the "inky blackness" of their prints."
"When I first became interested in photography, I thought it was the whole cheese. My idea was to have it recognized as one of the fine arts. Today I don‘t give a hoot in hell about that. The mission of photography is to explain man to man and each man to himself."
"When that shutter clicks, anything else that can be done afterward is not worth consideration."
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