J.P. Morgan photographed by Edward Steichen in 1903; photo known for the light reflected off the armrest being interpreted by viewers as a knife. Source: File:JP Morgan.jpg – Wikimedia Commons

This is another book I received as a birthday present. Unlike many of my of photography books this is less a book about Steichen than it is a book by Steichen. It’s full of interesting anecdotes and is lavishly illustrated with his photographs. The problem with such a book is that it’s hard to tell how objective it is. It’s clear from the book that he had a large ego. Does this get in the way of being honest about his work. I’m not sure how I feel about his pictures. While impressive, they somehow leave a me a little cold.

Pictorialist photographer; military documentary photographer; portrait photographer; fashion photographer; photography curator. Steichen is described in The Frustrating Genius of Edward Steichen by Frank Van Riper as follows:

In short, during his nearly 94-year life, Edward Steichen had not one but four, five, even six, separate careers. After the war for example, as director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Steichen mounted what many have called the greatest photography exhibit of all time: the monumental “Family of Man” show, featuring 503 photographs from 273 photographers in 68 countries. (To be sure, the life-affirming show, mounted at the height of the cold war in 1955, was derided immediately by some critics as mawkish and superficial – and was savaged by some of Steichen’s younger photographic colleagues. It says something about the staying power of this exhibition, however, that its catalog not only remains in print, but also is a bestseller, after nearly a half century.)

I found myself wondering what would have happened if he’d had one overwhelming passion that he had devoted himself to. Would his pictures have had more emotional impact that they did spread over so many different areas? Of course we’ll never know.

Still – a great photographer and I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

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