About this artwork
Edward Steichen negotiated many spaces of display over the course of his career: from his early training as a painter and his involvement in the Photo-Secession, an amateur group led by Alfred Stieglitz; to his service as a military photographer, and then a studio photographer for Condé Nast magazines; and later, to his curatorial endeavors at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. This self-portrait, taken around 1917, presents the artist’s frank assessment of himself at a pivotal moment in his career. Distancing himself from the soft-focus sentimentality of the Photo-Secession, Steichen broke with his mentor, Alfred Stieglitz (who had earlier abandoned that group), and stopped painting. Responding in 1915 to a questionnaire from Stieglitz, Steichen declared his wish that photography galleries like Stieglitz’s remain receptive to new elements, such as the crisp and straightforward aesthetic advanced in this self-portrait.
Edward Steichen was an early champion of Pictorialism, which promoted photography as a fine art; a painter as well as a photographer, he photographed himself in 1902 in soft focus, holding an artist’s brush and palette, and produced the image as a handmade gum print. Fifteen years later, his style and intentions had changed. This self-portrait, made on the eve of Steichen’s participation in World War I, shows the artist in sharp clarity with his studio camera, assessing himself frankly and cementing his new identity as strictly a photographer. He served as the commander of the photographic division for the United States Army Expeditionary Forces Air Service, documenting terrain in preparation for bombing sorties (a position to which he returned during World War II). Steichen worked in the 1920s and 1930s in magazines and advertising, before becoming curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
For more on Edward Steichen’s work in the Art Institute’s collection visit the website: Edward Steichen’s World War I Years.
Currently Off View
- Photography and Media
- Edward Steichen
- Self-Portrait with Camera
- United States
- Made 1915–1925
- Platinum print
- 25 × 19.8 cm (image); 33.8 × 29.2 cm (paper)
- Restricted gifts of Brenda and Earl Shapiro and the Smart Family Foundation; Laura T. Magnuson Acquisition, Comer Foundation, The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment funds; restricted gifts of Sidney and Sondra Berman Epstein, Karen and Jim Frank, Marian Pawlick; Ethel T. Scarborough, Hugh Leander and Mary Trumbull Adams Memorial Endowment, Betty Bell Spooner funds; restricted gifts of Vicki and Thomas Horwich, Robin and Sandy Stuart; Samuel A. Marx Purchase Fund for Major Acquisitions, S. DeWitt Clough, Photographic Society, Irving and June Seaman Endowment, Morris L. Parker funds
- © 2018 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York