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  Edward Steichen : Lives in Photography

Curators: William Ewing and Todd Brandow
Concept | Exhibition Calendar | Costs | Catalogue | Contents | Exhibition History | Organizational Bodies

Edward Steichen is one of the key figures in the history of photography. Beginning as a leading exponent of the 19th-century romantic movement called Pictorialism, Steichen metamorphosed rapidly into one of the leading lights of modernism. For more than half a century he occupied centre stage as the most famous living photographer, the medium’s first household name. However, until now Steichen, -- a Luxembourger by birth -- has never been the subject of a significant retrospective in Europe.

As a photographer of great renown in both amateur and professional circles, an editor, curator, horticulturalist, entrepreneur, promoter, and showman, Steichen’s reach was extraordinary. His picture-making interests and enthusiasms were extremely diverse: portraiture, the nude, flower photography, fashion, dance, theatre, still life, landscape and nature. He was one of the first to bridge the gap between creative photography and editorial, illustrational, and other applied usages of the medium.

In the early decades of the century Steichen, in collaboration with Alfred Steiglitz, helped found the Photo-Secession and its influential journal, Camera Work. He was largely responsible for introducing to the U.S. audience the work of such European modernists as Rodin, Matisse, and Picasso. Between the two world wars Steichen achieved the pinnacle of success in commercial photography as photographer-in-chief for the Condé Nast publications Vogue and Vanity Fair. During the two world wars he served with distinction as a military photographer and propagandist, organizing influential and highly innovative exhibitions in support of the war effort. Later he helped chart the course of post-war photography from his position as photography curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, during the course of which he produced the most widely-seen photography exhibition of all time, The Family of Man, along with its widely distributed catalogue.

Steichen’s career was filled with controversy. His early partner, Alfred Stieglitz, considered Steichen’s move into the world of fashion and advertising treasonous, while his old Pictorialist colleagues were outraged at his seeming abandonment of their noble aims. Some critics saw his work for the Condé Nast empire as obsessed with glamour. Many opposed his replacement of Beaumont Newhall as head of the Photography Department at MoMA. Others criticized The Family of Man as naively sentimental, and questioned his use of photographers’ work to further polemical aims.

The tension between 'art photography' and 'commercial photography' endures even today. Emblematic of that, Steichen remains a polarizing figure, which perhaps explains the lack of serious retrospective consideration until now. Younger people, however, are intrigued by his commitment to defending the commercial/utilitarian role of photography while championing with equal vigor its artistic potential. Hence this survey provides a most timely opportunity to reconsider Steichen’s various activities and their implications while focussing on the central but too-often overlooked component of his project – his five decades’ work as a photographer.

Starting with generous loans of original Steichen prints from a number of public and private collections in Luxembourg and other countries of Europe, the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne, and the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Paris, (FEP) will together curate and produce this unique Steichen exhibition. They will complement these original photographs with loans from major museum collections and private archives in the United States; the result will be a large-scale project, the most comprehensive exhibition of his work ever, representing all aspects of his oeuvre.

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Exhibition Calendar
1. Jeu de Paume, Paris October 8-December 30, 2007
2. Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne January 17-March 23, 2008
3. Palazzo Magnani, Reggio Emilia April 26-June 8, 2008
4. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid June 24-September 22, 2008

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Todd Brandow is a curator and director of the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography; A. D. Coleman is a critic, historian, and curator; Catherine Coleman is curator at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; William A. Ewing is a curator, professor, and director of the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne; Ronald J. Gedrim is an independent scholar; Nathalie Herschdorfer is associate curator at the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne; Patricia Johnston is a professor of art history at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts; Olivier Lugon is a professor of picture history at Lausanne University; Pamela G. Roberts is the former curator of the Royal Photographic Society, Bath, UK; and Joanna T. Steichen is the artist’s widow and executor of his photographic estate.

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The essence of the show will be 250-275 framed original prints. In addition, we will present historic materials such as exhibition catalogues, original maquettes, copies of Vogue and Vanity Fair, etc. The installation will be unusual, with several different environments being created for the various periods (salon style for his Pictorialist work, for example). In addition, special efforts will be made to present partial re-stagings of the artist's curatorial collaborations with Alfred Steiglitz, as well as his legendary exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art.

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Previous Exhibition History
Most recently, in 2000, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York exhibited nearly 200 of his vintage prints to great critical and popular acclaim. There has never been a retrospective exhibition of Edward Steichen’s photography and curatorial work of this size and depth available as a touring exhibition in Europe or the United States. Previous retrospectives were held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961 and the George Eastman House on the centennial of his birth in 1979. This full retrospective of the work of Edward Steichen promises to be one of Europe’s cultural highlights of 2008.

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Organizational Bodies
This exhibition will be co-produced and toured under the joint auspices of an American non-profit organization dedicated to the exhibition of photography, the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography (FEP) and the Swiss museum dedicated to photography, the Musée de l’Elysée. Web addresses are and

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Biographical Information on Curators

William Ewing, director of the Musée de l’Elysée, is a well-known curator and writer on photography. His exhibitions have been shown at many museums in America and Europe, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Hayward Gallery and the Serpentine Gallery, London; the Kunsthaus, Zurich; and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. This work has been in addition to his primary responsibilities at the two institutions he has served for many years, the International Center of Photography, New York, and the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne. His recent books include The Century of the Body, the Body, and Erwin Blumenfeld. In 1993, he contributed the introduction to the Photo Poche edition dedicated to Edward Steichen.

Todd Brandow worked as an art consultant in NY for many years. Since 1997, he has been living in Paris, working as an independent photography curator. He has produced and co-curated the highly successful Edward S. Curtis vintage exhibitions that have toured European museums since 2000-2001 in two different forms, also of the modern print shows that are touring Latin America and Europe sponsored by the US State Department. He also worked collaboratively with the Cologne-based SK Kultur Stiftung/August Sander Archive on a multi-media exhibition of work by William Christenberry. He has recently co-curated a retrospective tour of Arno Rafael Minkkinen with A. D. Coleman, and is presently also working on a survey of jazz photography with Bob Shamis of the Museum of the City of NY and A. D. Coleman. He is the director of the American non-profit organization, the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography (FEP) and president of FEP Editions.

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