Steichen: A Biographyby Penelope Niven
Not since 1929 has there been a biography of Edward Steichen, photographer, painter, and a pivotal yet enigmatic figure in twentieth-century art and culture on two continents. Steichen, who died just short of his ninety-fourth birthday, was fifty and internationally famous when Steichen the Photographer was written by his brother-in-law, the poet and biographer Carl… See more details below
Not since 1929 has there been a biography of Edward Steichen, photographer, painter, and a pivotal yet enigmatic figure in twentieth-century art and culture on two continents. Steichen, who died just short of his ninety-fourth birthday, was fifty and internationally famous when Steichen the Photographer was written by his brother-in-law, the poet and biographer Carl Sandburg. Now Penelope Niven, whose highly acclaimed biography of Sandburg appeared in 1991, has written the first comprehensive biography of Steichen. Here, she illuminates the full story of Steichen's avant-garde life in Paris and New York and his roles in introducing modern art to the American audience, in shaping aerial reconnaissance photography in World War I and navy photography in World War II, in revolutionizing American fashion and portrait photography through his years as chief of photography at Vanity Fair and Vogue, and in creating the unprecedented photographic exhibition The Family of Man, which has touched a global audience of millions since it opened in 1955.
Steichen is a pivotal figure in the history of the visual arts in 20th-century America, a brilliant photographer who was at the center of the battle for recognition of that medium. A protean figure, Steichen was not only an artist but a scientist and a war hero. He acquired his first camera at 16; by the age of 20 he was exhibiting in prestigious juried shows. But the key event in Steichen's young adulthood was his sojourn in Paris, where he discovered his true calling as an artist, forged friendships with a number of influential artists, including Rodin and Picasso, and emerged as a major figure in the burgeoning world of photography. He would push his art form to the forefront with the exhibit "The Family of Man" in the mid-'50s, still the most widely seen photo show in history. All through his lengthy career, Steichen would be hounded by an unhappy marriage that left him estranged from one of his two daughters for many years (his granddaughters cooperated with Niven for this volume). His achievements are so many, his career so long and the ripples emanating from his circle of acquaintances of photographers, painters, and writers so variegated that it would be hard to encapsulate his life in fewer pages than Niven uses. One seldom has a strong sense of Steichen's complex personality, but the life is rich enough that one's attention never flags. And Niven's handling of Steichen's turbulent personal life is candid without being prurient.
Highly informative, and an absolute necessity for understanding the development of photography as an art form in the first half of this century.
- Eastern National
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Meet the Author
Penelope Niven is the author of Carl Sandburg: A Biography (1991) and coauthor, with James Earl Jones, of James Earl Jones: Voices and Silences (1993). She has been awarded two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and honorary doctorates from Greensboro College and Wake Forest University, where she received her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Penelope Niven lives and writes in North Carolina, where she is currently working on a novel and a biography of Thornton Wilder. She is the mother of award-winning screenwriter Jennifer Niven McJunkin.
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