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Steichen's Legacy Hardcover – September 26, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0679450764 ISBN-10: 0679450769 Edition: First Edition

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Editorial Reviews Review

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.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (September 26, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679450769
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679450764
  • Product Dimensions: 12.3 x 10 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,685,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Anyone interested in photography would enjoy this book.
Barbara Boma
This new book by Joanna Steichen is an excellent stand-alone reference on Edward Steichen's long career in photography.
Thomas F. Connery
Third, he was remarkably talented in capturing personality, much like the great portrait painters.
Donald Mitchell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book belongs in the home of everyone who loves great photography.
" . . . [S]eeing led to understanding and understanding could transform suspicion, hatred and violence into tolerance, peace and love." This was Steichen's vision for his oeuvre, as reported by his widow, Joanna, in this rewarding retrospective and series of biographical essays. In keeping with that vision, Ms. Steichen has developed this wonderful volume in the following way: "I want the reader to have optimal opportunity to experience the images simply as images." In that, she was remarkably successful. She graciously acknowledges the aid of George Tice, the last of those who printed for Steichen, in preparing the volume.
Each page is gorgeously reproduced in superb size, on great paper, and with thoughtful care concerning the sharpness, lack of sharpness, or contrast required to express Steichen's intent for each image.
Before going further, let me mention that Steichen's work does include female nudity. There are few of these images, and only one is potentially challenging for the viewer. If such things bother you, skip that section of the book called "the Body" or skip this volume.
If you are not familiar with Steichen's personal life, you should know that he and his wife first met when he was 80 and she was 28, when Carl Sandburg, Steichen's brother-in-law, introduced them. They soon fell in love and married. Steichen then drafted her to be his personal assistant, and she became very familiar with his work and collaborators. When he died, he left his negatives to her for use and disposition, and directed that she also decide who was to get his prints.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Thomas F. Connery on September 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This new book by Joanna Steichen is an excellent stand-alone reference on Edward Steichen's long career in photography. The quality of the reproduction is high and the book includes a good number of photographs that are seldom or never seen in the other books written on Steichen's career. The text is easy to read and does not contain "art gibberish" - a major positive point! Joanna Steichen's comments on her relationship with Edward are revealing and are of great interest to those who have studied Edward Steichen in some detail. There is some weakness in the text in regard to events early in the century. Questions about some of the stories concerning Edward Steichen remain unanswered (for example, the often told tale of the painting burning in France still has no specific date). So far as photo selection goes the book is excellent. My only real disappointment here was in the selection of autochromes. The autochrome shown on the dust jacket is spectacular but some of the others selected are fairly well known and, in my opinion, somewhat overrated. To its credit, the book includes color reproductions of some of Edward's 1920's work such as "Wheelbarrow with Flower Pots" and "Dana and the Apple". I highly recommend this book, even to those who already have an extensive collection of books on Edward Steichen.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This beautifully printed book is obviously a labor of love on all sides. With text by the widow of Edward Steichen, the book is unique in that it weaves together the extraordinary photographs of this great American master with an intriguing story which is more memoir than dull academic treatise. While Edward Steichen's beautifully reproduced photographs provide a feast for the eyes, Joanna Steichen tells his story and looks at their life together honestly, bringing to her text the heart and soul of a true writer. She discusses the groupings of photographs from her own experiences as the young wife of a much older, great man, and she shares her memories of their sometimes difficult marriage. Even more extraordinary is that all of this is so accessible to a general audience, which is generally not the case with most art books. What this reviewer finds particularly interesting is the way the book is laid out -- in chapters with titles like "Of Woods and Water," "Forces of Nature," and "Challenging Women," instead of by dull academic chronology or by technical photographic process. In sum, this is really two books -- an art book and a memoir -- in one, and although this may confuse professional reviewers in the national press it should not dissuade readers. Put it on your holiday list if you want to give a very special gift to a very special person. For photographers, of course, the book is a "must buy." Edward Steichen was a true American original who lived a long and exciting life to the fullest, and was a pioneer in his field. "Steichen's Legacy" will interest almost everyone.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Reading Fan on January 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Why would a 26-year-old marry an 81-year-old? I don't know, but I am glad for the insight Joanna Steichen provided to Edward Steichen's personality and what his work was about. Her writing style is insightful, poetic, and surprisingly candid about Steichen, both his good side (his work) and his bad side (his person). She did a good job of interpreting what he was trying to do, how he was trying to do it, and the `language' he was using in his props, lighting, angles, and so forth. There was almost a subliminal language going on in some of the photographs that she clues us in on. Also, it was special seeing people like Gary Cooper, Charlie Chaplin, and Franklin Roosevelt when they were in their prime. It was also a treat seeing the great sculptor August Rodin, composer Sergio Rachmaninoff, and Conductor Leopold Stokowski since I'm a fan of all three.

Although I am more into art than photography I find that Steichen was a 20th century giant of a photographer, and an artist, as such, his own right. He is well-known for his portraits of famous people, his wartime work in both of the World Wars, his contributions to the Family of Man exhibits, his creative cityscapes of New York, and his innovative advertising work. He was very big for most of the 20th century and even did some good work in the 1890's. Some of his work you have probably seen before, and you'll notice this as you go through his book.

Enormously gifted and innovative, he seemed to care little about anything but his work. He considered himself the surrogate son of August Rodin, the scupture of The Thinker, who was an impossible man who did improbably great work. Too much of Rodin seemed to rub off on him, but the greatness of Steichen's work can't be denied. It's important to separate the artist from his art. I did, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
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