Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, The Condé Nast Years 1923 – 1937

Edward Steichen was chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair from 1923 to 1937. During that time, he produced work of unequalled brilliance, putting his exceptional talents to work dramatizing and glamorizing contemporary culture and its achievers – in politics, literature, journalism, dance, theatre, opera and, above all, the world of high fashion. This beautifully produced book reproduces the best of Steichen’s images, all drawn from Condé Nast’s archive of more than 2,000 original vintage prints. Until now, no more than a handful of these prints has been exhibited or published. The 1920s and 1930s represent the high point in Steichen’s photographic career, and the work he did for Condé Nast’s influential magazines will stand forever among the most striking creations of 20th-century photography.

Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, The Condé Nast Years 1923 – 1937 opened at The Photographers’ Gallery on October 31st, 2014, presenting over 200 vintage prints, many on public display for the first time since the 1930s. Brought  together  especially  for  this  presentation, they  mark  the  period  when Steichen was working for Condé Nast on their two most prestigious publications: Vogue  and Vanity  Fair.    The  exhibition  offers  a  rare  opportunity,  not  just  to witness a key period in history but also to gain insight into Steichen’s distinctive approach  towards  portraiture  and  fashion  photography.  First  and  foremost  an independent art photographer, he was a major pioneer in the development of the medium and its status as an art form. Steichen was already an internationally celebrated painter and photographer when in 1923 he was offered the lucrative and high-profile position as chief photographer at Condé Nast.  During his period of employment there, Steichen was said to have been  the  best  known  and  highest  paid  photographer  in  the  world.  For  the  next fifteen  years,  Steichen  would  take  full  advantage  of  the  resources  and  prestige conferred  by  his  role  to  produce  an  oeuvre  of  unequalled  brilliance.    His  work defined  the  culture  of  his  time,  capturing  iconic  figures  in  politics,  literature, journalism, dance, theatre and, above all, the world of haute-couture. Universally  regarded  as  the  first  ‘modern’  fashion photographer,  he  was  in  fact originally  appointed  to  take  portraits  of  the  great  and  the  good  that  graced  the pages of Vanity Fair.  Seeing the effect these images had on the readership, he was persuaded to turn his attention towards the fashion pages in Vogue.

The  works  in  the  exhibition  convey  Steichen’s  forward  thinking  and  ‘painterly’ techniques.  He  borrowed  from  a  range  of  aesthetic  movements  including Impressionism,  Art  Nouveau  and  Symbolism  to  create a  characteristic  Art  Deco style.  Within  his  meticulous  compositions,  he  treated  his  subjects  as  vehicles through which to explore shape, form, texture, light and shade.

In High Fashion presents  photographs that depict designs from  Chanel,  Lanvin, Lelong, Patou, Schiaparelli amongst many others, alongside a series of portraits.  These  include  luminaries  such  as  Greta  Garbo,  Cecil  B.  De  Mille,  Winston Churchill,  Marlene  Dietrich,  Josef  von  Sternberg,  Frank  Lloyd  Wright,  Amelia Earhart, the writers W.B. Yeats and Colette; the dancers Martha Graham and Fred Astaire and the musicians Vladimir Horowitz  and George Gershwin. Providing  an  Art  Deco  backdrop  for  the  images  is  a series  of  three  unique wallpapers  that  Steichen  designed  for  Stehli Silks Corporation  as  part  of  their Americana  Prints  collection  (1925  –  27).  This  collection  featured  specially commissioned patterns from noted artists and celebrities of the time. Steichen used abstract arrangements of matches, eyeglasses, jellybeans, rice, buttons and threads to create his designs.  Also on display will be a selection of rare copies of Vogue and Vanity Fair presenting Steichen’s photographs in their original context. Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, The Condé Nast Years 1923 – 1937 is curated by William A. Ewing, Todd Brandow and Nathalie Herschdorfer and produced by The Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis in collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery. This exhibition has previously been shown in North America, Australia, Asia and Europe. The exhibition opened on 31st October, 2014 to 18th January, 2015.

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