“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.” – Edward Steichen

Edward Steichen not only contributed more photographs to Alfred Stieglitz‘s Camera Work publication than any other he is also credited with being the first fashion photographer. It’s safe to say that he was a twentieth-century V.I.P. (Very Important Photographer).

Photographic beginnings

Steichen started in photography in 1896. He had his first exhibition of photographs at a salon in Philadelphia in 1899. He was introduced to Alfred Stieglitz by Clarence White, a founder along with Stieglitz of the Photo-Secessionist Group. Steichen also studied painting in Paris. There, he met Rodin and was involved in modern art movements. He later was able to guide Stieglitz on art to exhibit in his Gallery 291. He designed the cover of the first issue of Camera Work for Stieglitz as well. During World War I, he directed aerial photography for the Army Expeditionary Forces.


Edward SteichenAfter the war, Steichen worked for Conde Nast magazines Vanity Fair and Vogue from the early 1920s to the late 30s. He also did freelance advertising photography for agencies like J. Walter Thompson. He was regarded as the best known, highest paid photographer in the world.

World War II found him commissioned as a lieutenant commander. 1n 1945 he became director of the U.S. Naval Photographic Institute where he was in charge of combat photography. He also organized exhibitions including “Power in the Pacific Rim” and “Road to Victory”.

After the war in 1947, he became director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His tenure saw over 50 shows of photography including the most popular exhibition “The Family of Man” in 1955. He held the position until 1962.


Steichen received numerous awards during his 50 plus year career. He was knighted in the French Legion of Honor, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Art Directors Club of New York Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.


The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, George Eastman House and Bibliothéque National in Paris and at the ICP.


Read more at the biography of Edward Steichen by Lisa Soccio courtesy icp.org

Read more mini-biographies of influential photographers on Photofocus.