Edward Steichen was a brilliant and lithe artist, capable of continually transforming photography along with the changes marked by modernity and liberalism during his time. Steichen’s inclinations that revolutionized photography and realized its purpose as an art form made him an icon that art enthusiasts, as well as aspiring photographers and artists should look up to.
Moreover, Steichen’s determination to stand out in various fields of artistic backgrounds such as art critiquing, to commercial photography, and from painting, to being a museum curator, became an inspiration to artists and non-artists alike to surmount various fields or industries that interests us, and dedicate ourselves to things that we love most. (Morrison, 2007) The remainder of the text will discuss specific roles and contributions that Steichen has made throughout the years that gave photography its uniqueness and significance.
Steichen’s life has made a tremendous influence on how he became an imaginative force of nature to photography so the most significant parts of his life will be recounted not only to pay tribute to him but also to illustrate how his existence merged with the subsistence of the field of photography. Edward Steichen’s Commercial Photography Edward Steichen was born on March 27, 1879 in Luxembourg. However, most of life was spent in the United States as his family moved to the country while he was still young.
His interest in pursuing a career in arts and photography was apparent when he reached the age of sixteen. “Edward Steichen,” 2008) Steichen underwent training in lithography which allowed him to obtain necessary knowledge and skills in printing colored shapes and figures on plates that became instrumental in his practical understanding of photography and the artistic formation of various images in color through painting. Although painting interested him as much as photography, he chose to reinforce his obtained knowledge and skills on the latter as his way of taking the field of photography seriously – something that was taken lightly beforehand.
His perceptions of serious photography were fueled by his persistence in melding the artistry in the field, as well as with commercialism. (Morrison, 2007) His unique and earnest take of photography led him to meet and become partners with Alfred Steigletz. Together, they established Photo Secession, which mainly reproduced the pictorialist style of photographic art. This style was exceptional in its form as photographs taken were made to look like products of painting artistry and ingenue.
Since the opening of Photo Secession, Steichen has focused on redefining photography. He wanted to bring in something fresh to the artistry scene so he created many photo exhibitions that presented various foreign works, particularly the renowned works of French photographers such as Henry Matisse. (Mitchell, 2008) He moved on to studying and developing aerial photography. His interest in this type of photography was intensified by the learned possibility of producing images that are clear-cut, in focus, and well-designed. Schueth) During this time, Steichen was all about characterizing photography as something meaningful, significant, and most importantly beautiful, as opposed to it being taken for granted in the past just like a mere tool for leisure pursuit and such.
Steichen’s life after World War I was the most distinguished part of his artistic career in commercial and fashion photography as it was during this time that he was hired as the chief photographer of Conde Nast which managed Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines. Hobson, 2001) Although Steichen’s move to be part of fashion and commercial photography was entirely different from his previous artistic points of views and aims of what photography really meant to him, he still continued to accept projects and shoots for advertising and fashion photography purposes. Despite the disagreement of Steiglitz in his chosen career path (Hobson, 2001), Steichen considered the prospect of working on commercial and fashion photography as a challenge and a means to expand the limits of the field of photography.
Through this experience, Steichen was able to formulate new and various techniques in photography which helped in realizing his purpose of allowing photography to be the vehicle for aesthetic materialism. (Zurich, 2008) Some of Steichen’s remarkable works with commercial photography includes his past projects for Welch, Jergen’s, and Kodak. His enthusiasm for meaningful and straightforward photography was reflected in his commercial works as he utilized real-life situations as subjects for illustrating various products advertised by business organizations.
His photographs for Eastman Kodak showed how people were seen forthrightly while utilizing this particular product. As time went on, after a variety of commercial photography sessions, Steichen was able to realize the connection between photography and advertising. At this point, Steichen succeeded in bringing out the momentous nature of photography, not only as a means that exuded aesthetics but also as it was related to every human being which influenced their way of thinking and behavior.
This point of view, he applied in the Welch Juice magazine photographs drawing out the elegant and upscale nature of the product. (Hobson, 2001) His technique in utilizing photography to appeal to varying degrees of social positions and points of view earned him a rise in Vogue magazine sales following its release. Perhaps, his ability to meld photography with multiple disciplines led to his success in commercial photography. It was primarily attributed to his intellectual faculties that made photography a tool for realizing the purpose of marketing and advertising.
Steichen saw the potential of photography to sway the minds of the people into something desired by him or business organizations who produce various products for the benefit of the market population. His views about advertising in commercial photography were fueled by the things and situations he experienced during World War I. During that time, he worked for the Photographic Section of the Army Air Service in France and he was trained to reproduce copies of photographs that met identified needs and requirements to maintain patronage among the people and industries to the army.
The militaristic perspective in utilizing photographs was adapted by Steichen in his works, and allowed him to look at explicit and constructive angles of products or subjects that would gain the confidence and attention of its viewers. (Johnson, 2000) Contributing to his successes in commercial photography was his positive nature and characteristics that drew people toward him and gained trust for his artistic capabilities. He was open to working with other people in the industry, collaborating with various art directors and clients to obtain insights and share knowledge and information that improved his craft.
Moreover, he studied the trends in advertising and worked on adjusting his photographic styles to current strategies and techniques in marketing. Through his research, he was able to develop his most successful technique in commercial photography that is realism. He realized the importance of emotional responses as a means to establish connection with his audience or viewers. His ability to take pieces of his viewers’ realities and transform it into meaningful messages within his photographs while incorporating the dimensions of marketing and advertising subconsciously earned him the trust of business organizations and marketing industries.
He veered away from the hostile and uncomfortable dynamics of aggressive and direct advertising and transformed this particular marketing strategy to adapt rationalism, realism, and gentle persuasion. (Johnson, 2002) Overall, his strategy in commercial photography not only influenced the field of photography but also transformed business and marketing as separate industries. For one, he was able to make his subjects household names, meeting the needs, requirements, and demands of business organizations and marketing industries.
He satisfied not only the audience, viewers, or consumers, but also the corporations behind his photographic subjects. His views of realism as an important force in photography and marketing allowed to become a part of business strategies being implemented not only in the past but until present time. However, it was not only his career in commercial photography that determined his successful career. It was also his elegant and modern works on fashion spreads that revealed his range, from pictorialist to aerial, and commercial to fashion photography.
Steichen’s photographic contributions to fashion were dubbed as his celebrity aesthetic approach to photography. (Riding, 2007) He shot various stars and celebrities for Vanity Fair and Vogue covers in style, as he aimed to perfect their public figures by taking pictures of them representative of their beauty, grace, and alluring persona. For Steichen’s fashion shoots, every angle and every shot was all about capturing the essence of beauty and power. (Richard, 2008) His sense of fashion photography may be summed up in two words – elegance and modernity – despite the classic and conventional influences. Picardie, 2008) Conclusion Steichen’s brilliance as an artist was fueled by his ability to transform the face of photography by incorporating various techniques and approaches which redefined and added to what photography can do aside from its obvious practical purpose of reproducing images for leisure purposes. In addition, Steichen was able to take the classic and conventional features of photography and develop new techniques that allow it to change with the demands and requirements of modern and liberal times.
Aside from Steichen’s ability to wander from one artistic background to another as a measure of this ingenuity and excellence in the field, his capacity to take photography under the context of other disciplines established his exceptionality as a photographer during his time. Steichen did not take his craft lightly and looked for various ways on how it will be improved that furthered his aims of making it a means to reproduce the reality in beauty that may be captured in photographs.
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