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Edward Steichen

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"Every other artist begins with a blank canvas, a piece of paper the photographer begins with the finished product."

Edward Steichen is most known for his portraits of famous recognizable stars of the American stage and screen of the 1920's and 30's. In 1895 when he was sixteen, he became interested in owning a camera and making photographs. On his 21st birthday, Steichen started off for New York, and when he arrived, he met Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz was particularly interested in the fact that Steichen was both a painter and photographer. He bought three of Steichen's prints on their first meeting for five dollars a piece, and made a comment that since Steichen was off to Paris, he would probably forget about photography and devote himself entirely to painting. As the elevator door shut and Steichen was leaving, he shouted up to Stieglitz,"I will always stick to photography!"

A few of years later when Steichen returned to New York, he photographed J. Pierpont Morgan, and said that the experience of photographing Morgan taught him an important lesson. He had found that capturing the mood and expressions of the moment was more important than photographing the twigs, the leaves, and the branches of the trees. Steichen found that in photographing Morgan, all that he saw was a map of his face, blank and lifeless. He discovered that when irritated, something touched the quick of Morgan's personality, reacting swiftly and decisively photographing beyond the consciousness. "The essential thing was to awaken the genuine response." Steichen said.

During the years when Steichen worked for Conde Nast, he made use of his ability to draw out that genuine response for mass circulation publication, portraits of actors, authors, and producers. For each sitting, he demanded of himself the task of producing images that revealed something he had not shown before.

As the fifteen years of the "Conde Nast Period" went on, the repetitive nature of Steichen's assignments threatened to defeat his insistence on freshness and originality. Instead of becoming stale, Steichen elected to close is New York studio in 1938. Steichen saw this as the beginning of another phase of his growth. He found eternal joy in birch bark, bliss in a sunlit fantasy of a dainty debutante nestled in pretty surroundings, awe in a gleaming icon of a nude. He was an artist in the classic sense of the word. He continued to garden and breed delphinium and put a new race on the market. He designed glass for Stuben, silk for Stehli, made a piano case for Steinway.

Steichen lived on for thirty five years past the closing of his studio, and stands today as one of the greatest American photographers who helped make photography what it is today. He applied his vision through the camera and used it to illustrate the person with a fresh vitality that has remained for decades.