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Edward Steichen in History of Photography Essay

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Updated: Sep 24th, 2021

Edward Steichen (1879–1973) is one of the central figures in the history of photos. For his energetic career, which endured over half the life span of photography, he was famed as an artist, fashion photographer, writer, and technical modernizer. He was also an ardent supporter for photography as an art, and led, along with Alfred Stieglitz, an artistic rebellion that enabled photo to be regarded as a medium competent of understanding and appearance and not as a mere documentary record of imaginary facts. (Eisinger, 1995)

Steichen engaged in photography in 1895, when he was sixteen, and had nothing but self-teach. During his career, he was associated with an approach of photography named Pictorialism. The Pictorialists sensed that the aesthetic pledge of photo lay in a simulation of painting. Steichen’s early work, then, took lots of Pictorialist techniques (a jiggled tripod, a lens bathed in glycerin, or various darkroom tricks) created to manufacture “painterly” soft-focus upshots.

Steichen made the photo in Mamaroneck, New York, near the house of his pal, art critic Charles Caffin. The photo attributes a wooded territory and pond, with moonlight appearing between the trees and reflecting on the dew pond. While the print is a color photo, the first true color photographic processing, the autochrome process, was not achievable until 1907. Steichen created the feeling of color by physically applying layers of light-receptive gums to the paper. (Eisinger, 1995)

Edward Steichen intentionally founded a style for a whole group of photographers who photographed marine actions in the Pacific under his control. Wayne Miller remembered: “It was Steichen’s prime concern–don’t photograph the war, photograph the man, the little guy; the struggle, the heartaches, plus the dreams of this guy. Photograph the sailor.” (Davidson, 1981) Steichen made a unified apparition out of the work of the different photographers he ruled. He concluded which negatives were to be produced and how they were to be yielded, he worked out stern control over the tonal eminence of the prints replicated by his lab, and he fixed on which produces would go into the photo unit’s picture and which would not. Davidson, 1981)

Photos for project

The photographs made for the project represent the style of Edward Steichen’s photography. In 1904, only some photographers were applying this trial method. Only three identified versions of the Pond-Moonlight still exist, and, consequently of the hand-layering of the gums, each is exclusive. Moreover to the photo sold on an auction, the other two prints are held in museums. The astonishing sale charge of the print is, in part, featured to its one-of-a-kind personality and to its curiosity.

Actually, it is difficult enough to repeat a masterpiece of the professional, but it is quite possible to imitate. Soft focus, black and white coloring, natural light or darkroom tricks, soft gray filters: these instruments have been used to make similar pictures. I could not process my lenses in glycerin, so I had to retort to computer technologies, in order to get the necessary dim effect on some photos. Luckily, the modern photo technology offers immense opportunities, but they’re also should be photographer’s intuition, and feeling of the style to approach the professionalism by Edward Steichen.

Challenges experienced

As for the challenges experienced, the most serious was to get used to the jiggled tripod, as the necessary jiggling measure is hard to suit: not enough jiggling causes deep sharpness, which is not attributed to Pictorialism, and too much jiggling leads to too fuzzy image, and it spoils the picture.

The idea of pictorialism in photo needs to be split to some extent from the notion of “painterly” that has seen expanded usage in the current photographic literature. Initially, painterly had virtually the same notion as pictorialism, in that it might be applied to express photographs with the type of impression that paintings provoke. Sometimes it seems painterly is applied to describe any photo that looks like painting in a substantial manner, in spite of of any affecting background. (Eisinger, 1995)

The start of the digital photography era has had a lot to do with these changes in practice as it is now probable to imitate painting down to the exacting type of brushstroke applied. In the photography literature nowadays, a photo might be referred to as painterly just because someone applied a watercolor or oil painting view to the photo retorting to software tools. These pictures may have the appearance of a painting but not unavoidably the emotional sense. Beyond these shallow painterly results, digital photography has offered a new set of tools for performing true pictorialist photos. Consequently, there is a resurgent attention among photographers in chasing pictorialism as a way of individual artistic expression. (Davidson, 1981)


Davidson, Abraham A. Early American Modernist Painting, 1910-1935. New York: Harper & Rowe, 1981.

Eisinger, Joel. Trace and Transformation: American Criticism of Photography in the Modernist Period. 1st ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

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