Photography has become something so mundane and ordinary to us in recent years. Has it lost its touch if everyone and anyone can take a picture of anything? There was a time when pictures were only taken during weddings, funerals, or Wars, photography was a way of documenting a special time and ensuring that it would be remembered for years to come. However, somewhere down the road photography changed, it transformed from a form of documentation to a form of art. Many credit famous 20th-century photographer Edward Steichen for bringing art into the world of image and photography.
Luxembourgish Steichen moved to the US in his childhood years and always expressed a love for the artistic elements of this world, he studied painting and lithography before taking on photography in 1896. His work was first featured at the Philadelphia Salon in 1899 before being featured at the world-renown Chicago Salon, it was after this that Steichen got noticed by one of the most important names in art at the time: Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz has an impressive portfolio of various art mediums, but his true love was photography, he is the reason that photography is now considered art. Stieglitz began his photography career with more pictorial styles, however, he progressed into focusing on certain concepts these being New York City, clouds, and of course his incredible wife Georiga Okeefe.
While both of these men are independently important to the development of the photography world, it is their joint contribution and their meeting that created a space for pictures within the art scene. Steichen designed the cover for the first edition of Camera Work, a photography journal created by Stieglitz which contains some of the most impressive photographs captured by some of the most influential photographers in history. The duo then went on two create the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which became known as “291”, where photography was held in the same regard as painting or sculpting, this was one of the first professional photography galleries in New York. With Steichen’s European roots he also helped to bridge the gap between American and European art, making the 291 a transatlantic exhibition of art. The gallery was home to some of the most avant-garde representations of modernist art in Europe and helped to bring this art style into the Americas and created a conversation about how art was changing.
While Steichen’s contributions to the art world are nothing less than remarkable, he also played a role in how society saw war, and how we still see war today. After becoming a lieutenant commander in 1942 Steichen was appointed director of the U.S Naval Photographic Institute in 1945, there he oversaw combat photography and organized the exhibitions Road to Victory and Power in the Pacific. When we see pictures from WW2 they were all curated and examined by the inspiring photographer. It is his influence that helped America, and the World learn that war was not just some far-off battle we were detached from, but rather a face, made of blue eyes and brown hair, the war took real lives and Steichen documented those lives.
The power of photography will never be forgotten thanks to the incredible Edward Steichen.