STEICHEN (book review ISBN 0-517-59373-4)

Discussion in 'Book, Magazine, Gallery Reviews, Shows & Contests' started by Bill Mitchell, Jan 9, 2005.

  1. Bill Mitchell

    Bill Mitchell Member

    Dec 13, 2003
    "STEICHEN" is a 700+ page biography by Penelope Niven, who was so impressed by the photographer while writing a biography of Carl Sandburg (his brother-in-law) that she wrote this one. Apparently it was with the enthusiastic support of all of Stichen's family except his last wife (he was 80, she was 20).
    When Steichen died at the age of 94 he was widely acclaimed at the world's greatest living photographer, at least by the non-photographic fraternity, although he actually gave up photography in his last years to head the Department of Photogaphy at New York's Museum of Modern Art. He felt that the crowning achievement of his life was the concept and production of MOMA's "Family of Man" show.
    Ms. Niven's biography is written from the prospective of a non-photographer, and concentrates on his relations with his artist friends and his family. The first 450 pages deal with his background as a coal miner's child in Michigan, to a pennyless artist in Paris where he was befriended by Rodan, his interactions with Alfred Stieglitz and their gallery "291", and ending with the first World War, where he rose from volunteer to Colonel in the Army AirCorps. France gave him the Medal of The Legion of Honor. Then, at age 60 in World War Two, he pulled strings to get into the Navy, where he rose from Lt. Commander to Full Captain. He later received the Presidential Medal of Freedom!
    This is a well-written, interesting book. It fills in much of the inside back story about the development of modern photography. It's only drawback is that it lacks illustrations of his work, except for family photos.
  2. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

    Jul 17, 2003
    Kansas, USA
    Large Format
    Bill, harking back to our e-mail exchange earlier today when you told me about this book, I looked up a couple short article on Steichen. Truly an amazing person. Just one of his accomplishments would have made a person noteworthy.

    The fact that he was head of photographic operations in both World Wars, in two different Services, is quite - - I don't know how to term it. The military needs in both eras produced many, if not all, of the advances in mass photo processing. This was the leading edge of the technology of the times. Joe Rosenthal's Iwo Jima flag raising photo was processed by a Navy forward-deployed lab. Steichen would have been responsible for getting that whole system in place. Then, on top of that, he had a quite successful artistic career.