Steichen's Legacy

Edward Steichen, Photographer, Joanna Steichen, Editor, Joanna Steichen, Text by (Art/Photo Books) Alfred A. Knopf $100 (408p) ISBN 978-0-679-45076-4
If one has encountered the ubiquitous black and white posters of New York's severe, pre-WWII cityscape, one has probably encountered modernist photographic pioneer Edward Steichen. But the pictures collected here present a much richer Steichen (1879-1973) than the common perception of a purist and aesthete. Joanna Steichen, the photographer's third wife, has culled these 308 b&w and color photos by considering ""visual theme and emotional communication over chronology and initial function,"" highlighting his unabashed sense of grandeur and technical precision. The advertisements Steichen did for the J. Walter Thompson agencyDincluding a remarkable shot of a woman applying lipstick in an angled mirror while her swell looks on and smokesDand his portraits of presidents from Taft and Teddy Roosevelt to FDR put the cityscapes, landscapes and still lifes (like Matches and Match Boxes) in a rich, capital-drenched context that's much more clear here than in previous collections. The excellent page-sized reproductions are augmented by Joanna Steichen's very detailed, memoirish (""I was twenty-six, tall, broad shouldered, slim but sturdy, well-groomed down to my white cotton gloves.... It was July 20th, 1959"") account of Steichen's life and career. The text can be heavy-handed, and there is a lot of it, but for the most part the writing is performed with care for, and preservation of, Steichen's work first and foremost. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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