The Pond—Moonlight (detail) by Edward Steichen (1904)
On this day in 1879, Éduard Jean Stiechen was born in Luxembourg. Éduard would eventually become an American, changing his name to Edward and would make tremendous contributions to the field of art photography. His photo, “The Pond—Moonlight” (detail shown above), shot on a friend’s property in Mamaroneck, NY, would one day fetch $2.9 million dollars at auction, making it, at the time (2006), the most expensive photographic print ever sold.
While he was an infant, his family moved to Chicago, and later moved to Milwaukee when the boy was 10. At fifteen, he began an apprenticeship in a lithograph printing company and, at night, would teach himself to draw and paint. At sixteen, Edward bought a second-hand Kodak camera and began experimenting with it. At about this time, he and a group of artist-friends pooled their money to rent a small office, calling it The Milwaukee Art Students’ League.
In 1900, en route to Paris, Steichen stopped in New York where he met photographer Alfred Steiglitz, fifteen years his senior. The older photographer praised the younger’s work and purchased three photos from him. Stieglitz was especially impressed with Steichen’s background in painting. Thus began the start of an important collaboration between the men—which involved the publication of an art journal and the opening of a Fifth Avenue art gallery. The gallery, called “Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession,” was responsible for mounting amongst the first American showings of artists Matisse, Rodin, Cézanne, Picasso, and Brâncusi.
In 1911, Steichen was challenged by Lucien Vogel, publisher of La Gazette du Bon Ton, to use his camera skill to help lift fashion into the realm of fine art. Steichen arranged a session, artfully photographing several Paul Poiret gowns—in what is now considered the world’s first modern fashion shoot.
During both World Wars, Steichen contributed to the effort, commanding groups of American military photographers, all the while advancing to the field of war photography. Between the wars, he made his living as a commercial fashion and portrait photographer, working for Vogue, Vanity Fair, and the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson. During this time, Steichen is acknowledged to have been the most-famous and highest-paid photographer in the world. After World War II, Steichen began a long stint as Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art.
Edward Steichen died at his estate in West Redding, CT, two days short of his 94th birthday. His ashes were buried near a huge outcrop of boulders on his estate, exactly as he had requested.
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