Steichen: Biography, a

Penelope Niven, Author
Penelope Niven, Author Clarkson N Potter Publishers $45 (672p) ISBN 978-0-517-59373-8
Reviewed on: 11/03/1997
Release date: 11/01/1997
Paperback - 808 pages - 978-1-59091-026-9
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In 1895, when he was 16, Edward Steichen bought his first box camera; when he died at 94, he had long been both an eminent art photographer and the most famous fashion and documentary cameraman in America. Remembered now for his collaboration with his one-time rival Alfred Steiglitz, Steichen was a photographic revolutionary, the most successful commercial cameraman of his time and a leader in aerial reconnaissance photography in both world wars. Also a painter and an impresario, he exhibited Matisse, Rodin and Picasso in Paris, London and New York while promoting inventive American photographers at home and abroad. In trying to write about Steichen, Niven, the biographer of his brother-in-law Carl Sandburg, encountered the opposition of Steichen's third wife, who at 26 married the 81-year-old bearded veteran. Many photographs were denied to Niven, as well as permission to quote from Steichen's unpublished letters. Still, Niven evokes the colossus of American photography in sometimes swamping detail. By the end, Steichen was less passionate about photography as ""one of the fine arts,"" feeling that its primary function had become ""to explain man to man and each man to himself."" Niven's crowded narrative chronicles that personal and professional transition. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)
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