Edward Steichen was a visionary determined to show that photography was an art form as well as a craft, which explains the painterly style characterizing his early images. His portraits resonate with echoes of Whistler and Sargent; like Whistler, he used terms such as pastorale and nocturne as titles for his landscapes to suggest their affinity with music. His experiments with color images of flowers, dating as early as 1907, look back to the paintings of Fantin-Latour yet anticipate Robert Mapplethorpe. He explored photography's potential to immortalize the chance play of shadows on flat surfaces and the unexpected beauty of decayed plants. Beyond his artistic eye, Steichen's sensitivity and daring were evident in the international photographic exhibition The Family of Man
that he organized for the Museum of Modern Art in 1955. The text of Steichen's Legacy
is written by the photographer's widow, Joanna, who met Steichen when he was 80 and she was 28. Though her intensely personal recollections are a unique window on Steichen's life and an excellent source of anecdote, they form an uneasy mix of art history and biography--the loving memories of one so intimate with Steichen do not form the most solid base for analyzing his work. Her choice of images, however, and the book's rich visual presentation make it a magnificent tribute to one of photography's great interpreters and innovators. His legacy is well served by the 300 high-quality duotones, tritones, and full-color images that illustrate this substantial volume, printed in Italy on fine art paper and a tour de force of book production. --John Stevenson
From Publishers Weekly
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.)
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