Real Fantasies: Edward Steichen's Advertising Photography

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During the 1920s and 1930s, Edward Steichen was the most successful photographer in the advertising industry. Although much has been said about Steichen's fine-art photography, his commercial work—which appeared regularly in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Ladies Home Journal, and almost every other popular magazine published in the United States—has not received the attention it deserves.

At a time when photography was just beginning to replace drawings as the favored medium for ...

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Overview

During the 1920s and 1930s, Edward Steichen was the most successful photographer in the advertising industry. Although much has been said about Steichen's fine-art photography, his commercial work—which appeared regularly in Vanity Fair, Vogue, Ladies Home Journal, and almost every other popular magazine published in the United States—has not received the attention it deserves.

At a time when photography was just beginning to replace drawings as the favored medium for advertising, Steichen helped transform the producers of such products as Welch's grape juice and Jergens lotion from small family businesses to national household names.
In this book, Patricia Johnston uses Steichen's work as a case study of the history of advertising and the American economy between the wars. She traces the development of Steichen's work from an early naturalistic style through increasingly calculated attempts to construct consumer fantasies. By the 1930s, alluring images of romance and class, developed in collaboration with agency staff and packaged in overtly manipulative and persuasive photographs, became Steichen's stock-in-trade. He was most frequently chosen by agencies for products targeted toward women: his images depicted vivacious singles, earnest new mothers, and other stereotypically female life stages that reveal a great deal about the industry's perceptions of and pitches to this particular audience.

Johnston presents an intriguing inside view of advertising agencies, drawing on an array of internal documents to reconstruct the team process that involved clients, art directors, account executives, copywriters, and photographers. Her book is a telling chronicle of the role of mass media imagery in reflecting, shaping, and challenging social values in American culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
Johnston's study is downright gripping, an unexpected page-turner filled with treats for the eye. -- Los Angeles Times Book Review
Bookforum
For a fresh and provocative analysis of the photographic, economic, and cultural construction of media images, read Patricia Johnston's "Real Fantasies." -- Bookforum
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520227071
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 3/6/2001
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 373
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia Johnston is Associate Professor of Art History at Salem State College.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 Patronage and Style in Steichen's Early Work 7
2 The Age of Corporate Patronage: Advertising Accelerates the Demand for Photography 25
3 From "Reality" to "Fantasy" in Early Photographic Advertising 42
4 Subtle Manipulations: The Persuasion of Realism 72
5 The Modern Look in Advertising Photography and Product Design 105
6 The Collaborative Image 132
7 Testaments to Class Mobility 166
8 Viewing Fine and Applied Art: The Female Spectator and Advertisements 204
9 Melodrama in Black and White and Color 223
10 Ethnographic Advertising 248
Conclusion 255
Appendix 257
Notes 287
Photographic Credits 339
Index 341
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