by A. D. Coleman


On February 14, 2006, an auction at Sotheby’s in New York City set a record for the highest price ever paid for a single photograph. The image in question, a moonlit landscape created in 1904, was a complexly handmade object: a platinum print coated with several layers of gum bichromate, the multiple emulsions and printings giving it a rich, burnished, distinctive blue-green cast. It stands as a masterpiece of what have become generically referred to as “alternative processes,” an umbrella term covering the wide variety of formerly obsolescent but now revitalized photographic negative-making and print-making methods utilized by photographers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

“The Pond — Moonlight,” one of only three known prints of this image, came to the block with impeccable provenance, deaccessioned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which owns one of the two other variant prints, and which acquired this print by donation from Alfred Stieglitz. Peter MacGill, of New York’s Pace/MacGill Gallery, purchased this nocturne (depicting a scene in then-bucolic Mamaroneck, a town in Westchester County, New York) on behalf of a private collector. The print went under the hammer for $2,928,000 (including the buyer’s premium). That final bid tripled its estimated sales price — an unprecedented Valentine’s Day gift to the medium of photography.

That this previously little-known and now world-famous print came from the hand of Edward Steichen should not surprise us. In tandem with his longtime colleague Alfred Stieglitz, and on his own after they took separate paths, Steichen continues to loom large as one of the germinal figures of twentieth-century photography. His career in the medium spanned three-quarters of the last century; his multiple legacies, generous and problematic, endure into the new millennium. “The Pond — Moonlight” and the Pictorialist movement in photography for which it has now become iconic seem as good a starting point as any for investigating what we have inherited from the man called by many “the Captain,” since that image distills the essence of Pictorialist practice and represents a highlight of the first phase of Steichen’s career.

Movement I: From Pictorialism to Modernism

Because Steichen made this work during the course of his long partnership with Alfred Stieglitz, and published it first in Camera Work, the journal that Stieglitz edited and funded, let us begin with that relationship. Steichen’s many-sided involvement with his mentor went well beyond the working relationships with Stieglitz developed by other members of the Photo-Secession, the loose collective of like-minded Pictorialist photographers (most of them from the United States) that Stieglitz shepherded for a number of years.

Steichen initially shared Stieglitz’s vision of photography’s future, as well as his proselytizing tendencies. Consequently, he involved himself deeply in Stieglitz’s various projects. They first collaborated on the production of Camera Notes, the short-lived journal of the Camera Club of New York (1897-1903). When Stieglitz resigned from that organization and the editorship of its journal, Steichen assisted at the birth of an autonomous periodical, Camera Work (1902-1917), that would operate entirely under Stieglitz’s control.

Steichen designed the cover and other components of this exquisitely produced journal. It served as the Photo-Secession’s house organ and Stieglitz’s platform for a decade and a half. Camera Work’s high production values included subtle, delicate, hand-pulled ink gravures. These prints, from plates sometimes made directly from the original negatives, proved so sensitive to the nuances of the original prints from which they derived that, for more than three decades now, they have sold separately in the market for collectible photographs, considered as, in effect, limited-edition prints of those works.

Because Camera Work immediately established itself as the ne plus ultra of photography publications, those same production values shaped the future of the serious photography journal as a special type of periodical. The assumption implicit in Camera Work — that, de facto, such a magazine involved expensive state-of-the-art reproduction of images — became a given in the field. Subsequent periodicals often sought to emulate that model. The one that has endured the longest. surviving as a not-for-profit operation with substantial corporate and foundation support, is Aperture, founded in 1951 by a cluster of major figures in the field who looked consciously to Camera Work as the desideratum. Others have lasted for shorter periods, but some still persist, mostly as house organs for non-profit organizations and institutions: San Francisco Camerawork, Katalog (Denmark), Luna Cornea (Mexico), for example.

The list of “little” photography magazines that have died while striving to imitate Camera Work stretches from Contemporary Photographer in the 1960s to See in the 1990s. Thus, as a model, Camera Work in its physical form has proved problematic. For every variant that has survived — Aperture, 21st — one can point to dozens of failures, some of them disastrous, as editorial aspirations outstripped fiscal common sense. Nonetheless, notably, the physical model established by Steichen and Stieglitz has remained seductive and magnetic from the moment of Camera Work’s debut through the present. In the minds of many, it continues to define the high-end photography journal, even well into the digital era.

Camera Work manifests a second level of ongoing influence, in the area of content. It seems reasonable to propose that Camera Work constitutes the first true critical journal in photography. The magazine included no tutorial material on photographic craft and only a modicum of technical discussion; most of its texts were polemics, profiles, interviews, reviews, and other forms of commentary. In addition to offering regular contributions from Stieglitz himself, and periodic ones from other Photo-Secessionists, it served as a frequent platform for two prominent art critics who were not themselves photographers, Charles H. Caffin and Sadakichi Hartmann. Moreover, it functioned as a vehicle for occasional texts from other writers — poets, novelists, playwrights — who elected to address the medium of photography or other subjects the editors considered relevant.

And, in terms of both the images it reproduced and the essays it presented, Camera Work sought to position itself, and the medium to which it was devoted, within the larger context of creative activity in all the art forms of its time. Thus, unlike virtually all previous photography journals (and unlike most since then), it did not target amateur and professional photographers as its exclusive or even primary audiences. Instead, it sought to appeal to a broader audience for discourse about the cultural issues of its day.

Steichen did not generate much of that textual content himself, though he did contribute several pieces of writing. But responses to him and his work appeared in those pages regularly, as did his images. Perhaps more important, he served Stieglitz as a pipeline to the European branch of modernism. Many images by the European photo-pictorialists — plus paintings, drawings, and other works by such major figures in European art as Auguste Rodin, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Constantin Brancusi — that first came to the U.S. via Camera Work , got there through Steichen. So did texts by Gertrude Stein, Maurice Maeterlinck, and other Europeans and Europe-based U.S. expatriates that appeared in the magazine. Thus, as a behind-the-scenes “finder” for the Camera Work project, Steichen also helped to establish the concept of the critical journal in photography as one that considered the medium in relation to work in other media, taking the most expansive and encompassing approach to the field of ideas that the discourse around photography could address.

The same works that Steichen located in Europe for the pages of Camera Work often ended up in exhibitions held at the Little Galleries of the Photo Secession that Stieglitz ran in Manhattan. (Steichen’s own prints frequently graced those walls as well.) Initially the galleries occupied a rental unit vacated in 1905 by Steichen, who promptly collaborated with Stieglitz on redesigning it as a suite of exhibition rooms. They visualized this environment as a decisive break with the floor-to-ceiling jumble of elaborately framed works set amid velvet curtains, faux-Greek pedestals, and other decorative trappings then typical of salon-style presentations of works of visual art. These new spaces remained clean and spare, free of extraneous decor, painted in white or neutral colors interspersed with burlap-covered panels, with the works on display framed minimally and given breathing space between themselves, either clustered in small groupings or run in a single line at eye level around the walls.

As Olivier Lugon argues elsewhere in this book, this represents the emergence of the modernist vision of the gallery as a quasi-sacred, meditative space, the presentational format that, decades later, Brian O’Doherty would dub “the white cube” and propose as a central facet of the modernist project. Here we have the white cube’s precise point of origin: spaces designed by Stieglitz and Steichen for the display of photographs, modernist artworks in various media, African sculpture, and more.

This marks Steichen’s first powerful influence on the presentation of photography — and, more broadly, works of art in all media — in public spaces. The prototypical “white cube” environment that he and Stieglitz initiated came to pervade the art world, not just in galleries but in museums as well. It continues today as the dominant assumption in the design and architecture of display spaces for all forms of art.

Movement II: Into the Mainstream

Photographers in our day take for granted the option of moving between projects of their own devising (often self-supported) and various forms of bespoke or commissioned work. Those include editorial imagery, advertising imagery, still photography for commercial films, illustrations for corporate annual reports, studio portraiture, and many other variants of applied or functional photography. This has become so commonplace that it goes largely unremarked as a phenomenon. The list of photographers who have supported themselves and subsidized their more passionate creative commitments in these ways goes far back, in a lineage that runs from William Wegman, Sarah Moon, and Duane Michals today back through Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon in the post-World War II years to Lisette Model, André Kertèsz, Edward Weston, and Man Ray in the first half of the last century.

Many think that tendency begins with Edward Steichen. In fact, however, more than a few notable photographers before him, such as Mathew Brady in the second half of the 19th century and William Henry Jackson well into the 20th century, had sustained their creative efforts by soliciting clients for studio portraits, by licensing reproduction rights to their images for mass distribution, or by other commercial applications of their talents. Steichen’s name has become closely associated with this practice because, in his instance, the decision to undertake such work — and, more important, to endorse it publicly and justify it unapologetically — sparked a substantial controversy within the microcosm of the photography world at the time.

Steichen produced his first portraits on assignment — studies of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft — for Everybody’s Magazine in 1908. The designer Paul Poiret commissioned his first fashion photographs in 1911. By 1923 Steichen had begun working for the J. Walter Thompson Company, a New York-based advertising agency, while also serving as Chief Photographer for Condé Nast Publications. His efforts in this territory went well beyond the mere provision of images on demand. Aside from contributing the strength of his own photographic style, Steichen had considerable input into layout, design, and other aspects of the presentation of his own images (and those of others) on the printed page.

This decision to move into the terrain of “useful” photographic imagery, and to prioritize imagery that would reach its audience through the vehicle of ink reproduction on the printed page of mass-circulation periodicals, struck many of Steichen’s former colleagues (including Stieglitz) as a betrayal of the principles on which the Photo-Secession had been founded. It also marked the beginning of Steichen’s gradual abandonment of the hand-worked “alternative process” approach to printmaking, in favor of a less elaborate (though no less carefully nuanced) involvement with gelatin-silver paper as a vehicle, and his more abrupt leaving behind of the painterly visual style of most pictorialism, replaced by a hard-edged, sharp-focused approach to photographic picture-making.

These new methods became defining markers of photographic modernism (the U.S. version thereof in particular). We can see Steichen exploring this approach as early as “Heavy Roses,” from 1914, and “Lotus,” from 1915. He would continue to employ assorted pictorialist tropes for another decade (see, for example, “Dana and the Orb” from 1923). And he would use the more hand-worked processes for awhile longer as well. The print of “Dana and the Orb” in the collection of the George Eastman House is a platinum and ferro-prussiate print; the Museum of Modern Art in New York has a 1921 “Harmonica Riddle” in palladium. But by the middle 1920s Steichen’s involvement with the “alternative processes” of photography had become marginal. Thereafter he would experiment with new materials as they emerged (notably color films and papers), but would not devote further effort to pursuing the earlier printmaking techniques of his medium.

Well ahead of many, then, Steichen understood and adopted a modernist position in his own picture-making. He began to work in the approach that in Europe would become known as the “New Objectivity” (Neue Sachlichkeit). In the States, that tendency would get dubbed “purism” by devotees of the Group f.64 in which such figures as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Imogen Cunningham joined, and would be referred to as “straight photography” by others who favored it. As modernism emerged in his medium, Steichen set aside some previous photographers’ attempts (including his own) to position the medium among the fine arts through labor-intensive production of hand-crafted objects that could lay some claim to what Walter Benjamin would later describe as the “aura” of unique handcrafted works of art, and moved away from such efforts by his contemporaries. Instead, he plunged himself into what Benjamin memorably named the “age of mechanical reproduction,” embracing that phenomenon wholeheartedly and exploring its possibilities. More than a decade before Benjamin issued his now-famous hypotheses, therefore, Steichen was operating according to the principles that Benjamin would subsequently articulate.

In doing so, Steichen established as respectable a photographer’s decision to move at will between the gallery wall and the printed page of newsstand magazines as vehicles for imagery. He thereby enhanced the credibility of the photographer who switches readily between personal/creative projects and commercial/applied commissions. His example of cross-pollination would stand subsequent generations of working photographers in good stead. By now the issue has lost its controversial edge. But it remains a subject of debate, with proponents of strong conviction on each side. In the event, the ranks of photographers with feet in both camps have swelled continuously, including ever more with serious credentials in creative photography. As a result, the skepticism that once attached to such dual allegiances has long since evaporated.

Movement III: Peacetime to Warfare

During World War I Steichen had served in the Allied forces, pioneering aerial photography and the analysis thereof. (His siding with France contributed to the schism between himself and Stieglitz, who supported Germany.) In World War II Steichen took on another role, becoming what we would now call “embedded.” Volunteering his services, he worked for the U.S. Navy as a filmmaker, documentary photographer, and photojournalist, while heading up a handpicked team of photographers generating imagery intended as unequivocally supportive of the Allied Forces and pro-U.S. in particular.

Photographers covering that war generally operated on the sufferance of the military; access to combat zones and other newsworthy situations required passes and other forms of approval from the relevant chains of command. The photographers’ output (like that of most journalists) usually underwent rigorous censorship, if not immediately by military offices set up for that purpose then by editors back home operating under strict guidelines imposed by the armed forces. Thus “shooting the war” necessarily involved cooperating with the chain of command of one side or the other and submitting one’s imagery and written stories and captions to a censorial process, a fact taken for granted by such staff and freelance photojournalists as Margaret Bourke-White, W. Eugene Smith, Lee Miller, Robert Capa, and countless others working on assignment in that era.

In addition to photographers like those, employed by the various press services, periodicals, and picture agencies, all branches of the U.S. military had their own photographic and film divisions, staffed with enlistees and draftees. Steichen organized and commanded such a unit. This willing embedding of himself anticipates the practice that would become widespread with the onset of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” in March 2003. Controversial now, due to doubts over the latitude allowed to embedded photographers and the potential biasing of and restrictions on their documentation that such involvement could generate, it was not considered suspect to any notable degree in photography or journalism circles at the time Steichen undertook that project.

His own photographic output during the war and that of his team, widely circulated by the Navy press service, appeared in countless publications internationally, as individual images and clusters thereof. In addition to that, Steichen himself supervised the creation of several large-scale projects drawn from this ever-growing collective archive of war-related material. These included:
* the exhibition and book version of “Road to Victory” (the show premiered in 1942 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, with accompanying text by Carl Sandburg and exhibition design by Herbert Bayer);
* the film The Fighting Lady, a U.S. Navy-sponsored documentary titled after the nickname of the aircraft carrier that served as home base for Steichen and his team (released in 1944, directed by William Wyler, the film’s production was supervised by Steichen, who also generated all of the full-color cinematography used in it);
* the exhibition and catalogue Power in the Pacific: Battle Photographs of Our Navy in Action on the Sea and in the Sky (which premiered at MoMA in 1945);
* and the book U.S. Navy War Photographs: Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Harbor (1946, sponsored by the U.S. Navy).

Steichen had orchestrated previous publications and exhibitions of work by himself and others, but never on this scale. These wartime projects reached larger, more far-flung, and more diverse audiences than anything under his absolute editorial control that he had attempted until then. They departed radically from the determinedly elitist, small-circulation journal Camera Work, the rarefied environment of the Photo-Secession’s “Little Galleries,” and other vehicles intended for the display of photographs as precious objects, and they obviated the making of photographs specifically conceived and created for such display.

These World War II productions took an unabashedly populist stance on every level, from purchase price to distribution to accessibility of content to intended audience size. Steichen’s high-profile activity during this war not only established the public precedent of the voluntarily embedded photojournalist in wartime but pointed him toward usages of the thematic group statement in photography as a vehicle for mass communication and a means of persuasion. In short, this experience with the propagandistic potential of his medium gave Steichen tangible proof that his photography and that of others could serve not only to materialize “a way of seeing” but also to promote a particular point of view.

Movement IV: Maker Turned Impresario

Nowadays the large-scale thematic group show and/or book is a commonplace, not only in photography but in all the visual arts. So, too, is the blockbuster traveling museum exhibition. When we trace such ambitious — and, in the minds of some, grandiose — undertakings to their origin, one enterprise signals (more than any preceding it) the introduction of this type of project into the international circulation of art in general and photographs in particular: The Family of Man, Steichen’s liberal-humanist magnum opus, which opened at the Museum of Modern Art in January of 1955.

By then Steichen had become entrenched as the Director of the Department of Photography at MoMA, a position he assumed in 1947, a platform that historian Christopher Phillips has called “the judgment seat of photography” and that this author has described as “unquestionably the single most influential sponsorial position in contemporary creative photography.” Steichen’s appointment to that position over the head of Beaumont Newhall added yet another layer of contention to the Captain’s career.

Steichen’s entry into full-time museum curatorship seems in retrospect both inevitable and inevitably controversial. But Steichen had proved himself a subject of dispute well beyond photo-world circles even before taking over the MoMA department. He and the issues he represented in the mid-’40s were considered of broad enough interest to warrant a skeptical, often acidulous two-part profile by Matthew Josephson in the influential periodical The New Yorker in 1944.

Nor did the dispute over his arrival at MoMA restrict itself to issues of photographic esthetics, or to the MoMA administration’s disregard of Newhall’s tacit prior claim on that position. Steichen’s plans for his MoMA position included the raising of $100,000 from ten manufacturers of photography equipment to subsidize his own salary ― the first time that commercial/corporate monies had entered the museum in such a fashion. This set another precedent that has turned into a commonplace in the museum world, albeit one hotly debated at the time and far from resolved today.

Ultimately, however, the uproar centered on the direction Steichen’s detractors assumed the department’s exhibition policy would take under his leadership. In the years leading up to his resignation from MoMA, Beaumont Newhall, Steichen’s predecessor, had positioned himself (and was seen by the photography community) as the champion of the “purist” or “straight” lineage that presumably ran from the Scottish team of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson through Eugène Atget to Stieglitz and thence to Walker Evans, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams. The faction within the photo world that endorsed this vision of the medium’s evolution viewed Steichen, with his populist tendencies and track record in the fields of commercial and applied photography, as a traducer of that photography-for-photography’s-sake tradition.

From their perspective, Steichen had long since revealed himself as a renegade who would doubtless skew the department’s exhibitions toward functional photography — fashion, photojournalism, illustrational work, and the like — and away from the creative and documentary end of the spectrum. Characteristically, in the uproar following the announcement of his MoMA appointment, Ansel Adams (of all the Group f.64 members the one closest to Newhall both professionally and personally) excoriated Steichen as “the anti-Christ of photography: clever, sharp, self-promoting and materialistic.”

Yet if one compares the photographers, the images, and the types of work that Steichen elected to show during his tenure at MoMA (which lasted till 1962) with what Newhall had already shown there (1940-47) during his own MoMA stint and later chose to show at the George Eastman House in Rochester, his next and final curatorial appointment (1948-71), the overlap is almost perfect. Moreover, within the architectural limitations of the MoMA photo gallery and the other MoMA spaces to which Steichen (and Newhall before him) had periodic access, on the one hand, and those of the Eastman House spaces under Newhall’s supervision on the other, one can say that both curators applied the same “white cube” approach to the large majority of shows under their control. In short, the differences between their separate and independent overviews of the medium, and their approaches to the museum presentation thereof, seem negligible, at least in retrospect.

The major exception, of course, would be Steichen’s chef-d’oeuvre, The Family of Man, an ambitious experiment that one cannot imagine Newhall either conceiving or undertaking. Applying a combination of picture-press layout methods and innovative exhibition design ideas in collaboration with architect Paul Rudolph, choosing and juxtaposing and scaling images according to his own editorial decisions, Steichen ignored what were then already standard methods for display of photographs as objects of art. In so doing, he created what we would now call an installation — and a massive one at that, utilizing 503 pictures by 273 photographers from 68 countries. With that act he and his project team moved the museum display of photography decisively from exhibition to spectacle.

Had this vast survey simply enjoyed its scheduled run at MoMA, where it broke all attendance records, viewed there by tens of thousands of New Yorkers and visitors to the city, The Family of Man would have made a considerable mark on the field by demonstrating to museum directors around the world the drawing power of spectacular exhibitions of photography. But Steichen and his colleagues had planned a widespread dissemination of the project, which they achieved.

Much of The Family of Man’s lasting influence resulted from Steichen’s application of lessons in the distribution of imagery and ideas that he’d gleaned from his several wartime projects. But this extravaganza’s reach exceeded those prior efforts by far. The exhibition only began its life at MoMA, on West 53rd Street in Manhattan. Produced in multiple copies, the show traveled internationally for years, touring for seven years in multiple sets throughout 38 countries. An estimated nine million people attended those various showings into the 1960s.

The show inevitably partook of (and consciously took part in) the ideological struggles of the Cold War. Prominently displayed at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959, the site of the famous “kitchen debate” between Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. Vice-president Richard M. Nixon, The Family of Man contributed to a perception of the United States as a functioning, thriving democracy, an “open society,” in Karl Popper’s term, as distinct from the barred and gated nations of eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R’s then-ally, China.

The Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, already famous in the Soviet Union, attended the show, where he met both Steichen (who made his portrait later on that trip) and his brother-in-law, Carl Sandburg. Yevtushenko still recalls the power of that exhibition in that particular place at that historical moment: “So many Muscovites lined up for that exhibition — thousands, every day. Maybe especially those from our generation, my generation. [He was born in 1933.] My friends and I were all dreaming of Russia again being part of the common civilization. We didn’t feel completely lost or culturally isolated; we had some great Western books, French, American, English books in translation. And we were brought up to understand Russian culture as a part of European culture. But we wanted some sense of physical connection with the rest of the world, some feeling of contact. This great show gave us that. It was a revelation.”

The Family of Man also found itself subject to internal as well as external political considerations. Eric J. Sandeen has pointed out that a centrally placed and chilling image that appeared in all the exhibition versions — a 6×8′ back-lit color transparency of a hydrogen bomb test — did not find its way into the book version. He proposes that this resulted from self-censorship on Steichen’s part rather than from pressure from the publishers or other parties.

The book version of The Family of Man came out in at least four separate forms: hardbound, fancy softcover, cheaper softcover, and pocket-sized paperback. The book remains in print more than half a century after its first release, and it endures as the single book of photographs most likely familiar worldwide to someone not otherwise concerned with the medium. With millions of copies in circulation, it stands as the longest continuously published book in the medium’s history.
Nor has the final curtain rung down on the exhibition. In 1993 one of the traveling versions of The Family of Man, lovingly restored, opened to a new generation of viewers in Toulouse, France, then went on to Tokyo and Hiroshima, Japan, before returning to Europe in 1994 for permanent installation in a specially designed museum space in the Château de Clervaux, Luxembourg — the only photography exhibition to date ever so honored anywhere. This site is now inscribed on UNESCO’s “Memory of the World” register. It is almost impossible to calculate the number of people worldwide who have encountered this project of Steichen’s in one or another of its forms. And that number increases daily.

Controversial even during its prenatal phase, since its public birth The Family of Man has sparked a subsequent half-century’s worth of argument and research. Photographer, teacher, and editor Minor White would publish a critique of The Family of Man in Aperture that attacked Steichen for decontextualizing individual images from photographers’ bodies of work in order to reshape their meaning to suit himself. Roland Barthes gave it a pithy semiological pummeling upon the occasion of its arrival in Paris. Commentators from Jacques Barzun to Susan Sontag show up on the list of those who have felt the need to respond to this venture, pro and con, in the decades since its emergence. So that controversy has not ended: witness the publication of recent books and essays on this subject, evidence of the enduring potency of Steichen’s culminating effort.

The Family of Man remains a reference point and subject of animated debate. This is not due to dispute over the relative merits of the photographers included (many of whom have become canonical, all of whom have entered the history books, at least as footnotes), nor does it stem from disagreement over the relative value of the particular images chosen to compose it. The argument revolves around the specific curatorial concept used to organize the show — its sociopolitical message, its theme of transnational and transcultural human solidarity — and, more broadly, the curatorial power of image contextualization that it demonstrates so vividly.

Other projects of Steichen’s aside from The Family of Man still resonate. In 1972 theorist Allan Sekula provided a dissection of the entry into the art market of “vintage” prints of Steichen’s World War I aerial photographs for the military. In 1991, under the auspices of MoMA’s “Projects Room” series, artist Dennis Adams’ show “consisted of site-specific installation work including a chain of hand-crafted vitrines, wall-size photographs of MoMA’s ‘Road to Victory’ exhibition from 1942.” And now a print of Steichen’s, made at the beginning of the last century, has set a new high price for photographs at auction. More than four decades after he largely retired from public life, and more than three decades after his death, Edward Steichen remains very much with us — perhaps more so, and in more ways, than at any time since he left the Museum of Modern Art.


Take your choice, then. We have Steichen as print-maker extraordinaire, ultimate vindicator of what Lyle Rexer has dubbed “the antiquarian avant-garde.” We have Steichen as co-inventor of the critical journal and “little magazine” of photography. We have him as co-designer of “the white cube,” the prototypical art-display space of modernism. We have him as introducer of European modern art to the U.S. We have him as adroit, pathbreaking navigator between the realms of creative photography and applied photography, including advertising, editorial, military, and wartime propaganda. We have him as curator of the most powerful museum department of photography of his era. We have him as pioneer of the museum exhibition as installation. We have him as advocate of the didactic, thematic group exhibition. And we have him as the organizing force behind the single most influential and most widely seen internationally traveling museum-scale photography exhibition with accompanying monograph ever created.

Whichever Steichen you choose, he remains pertinent to virtually every issue actively debated in photography today. One can approach all of these aspects of Steichen’s cumulative lifelong project in his chosen medium from many different standpoints. I do not intend to make a case for any one of them outweighing the other, nor to take a position in favor of or against any phase of his work. I think it more valuable to point out that, taking all his legacies into account, he remains a central figure — perhaps the central figure — of twentieth-century photography.

The ramifications and influence of Steichen’s activities in the field endure. From the beginning of his life in photography to its end, he and his works have continuing relevance to the medium in our own time. Edward Steichen appears as one of those cultural forces that each generation must discover anew and reevaluate for itself. This round of the discussion has only begun.

© Copyright 2007 by A. D. Coleman. shall not be reproduced in any form without permission.



2006年1月14日,纽约苏富比的一场拍卖,创下有史以来单幅照片价格的最高纪录。拍卖品是1904年创作的一幅月光下的风景,这是一件手工制作极为复杂的作品:一幅涂抹多层重铬酸盐树胶(gum bichromate)的铂金照片,多层乳剂和多次印放为其赋予了丰富、光润以及与众不同的蓝绿色泽。它成为通常所谓“替代工艺”的经典之作,这个综合术语涵盖了十九世纪和二十世纪初摄影师们所采用的各种底片和照片制作方法,之前已逐渐废弃,但现在又重焕活力。

《池塘月色》(The Pond-Moonlight)是这幅影像仅有的三张照片之一,其来源出处无可挑剔,购自纽约大都会美术馆(Metropolitan Museum of Art),这家美术馆还拥有这张照片另外两个不同版本中的一个,通过阿尔弗雷德·施蒂格利兹(Alfred Stieglitz)的捐赠而收购。纽约佩斯画廊(Pace/MacGill Gallery)的彼得·麦吉尔(Peter MacGill)为一位私人收藏家购买了这幅夜景(描绘了纽约威斯特彻斯特县马玛欧耐克这座当时一派田园风光的小镇风景)。照片最终以2,928,000美元落槌(包括买家佣金)。最后的出价三倍于估价——这是给予摄影这一媒介的前所未有的情人节大礼。



因为斯泰肯创作这幅作品是在与阿尔弗雷德·施蒂格利兹的长期合作期间,而且最初发表在施蒂格利兹编辑并注资的期刊《摄影作品》(Camera Work)上,那么我们就从这段关系入手。斯泰肯与他的导师多方面的密切关系,远远超出了摄影分离派(Photo-Secession)其他成员与施蒂格利兹之间培养起来的工作关系,施蒂格利兹多年来一直领导着这个由志趣相投的画意派(Pictorialist)摄影师们(大部

斯泰肯最初分享了施蒂格利茨对于摄影之未来的设想以及他的教化倾向。因此,他自己也深深投入到施蒂格利茨的各个项目中。他们首先在《摄影评论》(Camera Notes)的制作方面合作,这是纽约摄影俱乐部(Camera Club of New York, 1897-1903年)的一本短期刊物。施蒂格利茨退出该组织并辞去该杂志编辑职位时,斯泰肯大力协助创办自主期刊《摄影作品》(1902-1917年),该杂志将在施蒂格利兹的完全控制下运作。


由于《摄影作品》迅速确立了自己是摄影出版物的巅峰,同样制作水准也塑造了严肃摄影期刊作为一种特定类型刊物的未来。《摄影作品》中所内涵的设想——事实上这样一本杂志包括了昂贵的摄影作品艺术级复制——在这个领域内成为了一种倾向。之后的期刊常常竭力效仿这一模式。持续时间最久、通过大量企业和基金会支持而以非营利形式生存的杂志,是1951年由一群该领域的重要人物创办的《光圈》(Aperture)杂志,他们自觉地将《摄影作品》视为追求目标。另外一些持续时间较短但有些仍在坚持的期刊,大部分是非营利组织和机构的内部刊物,如《旧金山摄影作品》(San Francisco Camerawork)、《图录》(Katalog)(丹麦)以及《月神之眼》(Luna Cornea)(墨西哥)等。

现在已不复存在的一些“小众”摄影杂志当初都竭力模仿《摄影作品》,从1960年代的《当代摄影师》(Contemporary Photographers)一直延续到1990年代的《观看》(See)。因此作为一种模式,《摄影作品》的外在形式已证明其问题所在。对于每一个现存的变异版本——《光圈》、《第二十一》——人们可以指出数个不足之处,其中一些是灾难性的,因为编辑们的远大志向远远超过了资金方面的常识。不过值得注意的是,斯泰肯和施蒂格利兹建立的那种外在形式仍极富魅力,从《摄影作品》首刊那一刻起至今,始终具有吸引力。在很多人心目中,它依然定义了高端摄影杂志,甚至在数码时代亦复如是。

在内容方面,《摄影作品》体现了其持续影响力的第二个层面。有人提出,《摄影作品》成为摄影领域第一个真正具有批判性的杂志,这种说法看来合乎情理。这份杂志并没有收录有关摄影工艺的辅导材料,只有很少一部分技术方面的讨论;大部分文字都是争论、作品集、访谈、评论文章和其他形式的报道。除了施蒂格利兹本人定期撰稿以及摄影分离派其他成员的定期文章外,它充当了两位本人并非摄影师的杰出艺术批评家经常光顾的平台,他们就是查里斯·卡芬(Charles H. Caffin)和萨达基奇·哈特曼(Sadakichi Hartmann)。此外,它还兼做其他作者偶尔发表文章的传播工具——诗人、小说家、剧作家等等,他们被推举出来讨论摄影这一媒介以及编辑们认为相关的其他问题。


虽然斯泰肯也写过几篇文章,但他并没有亲自写作大部分文字内容。不过对于他以及他作品的反应定期出现在专栏中,就像他的图片一样。也许更为重要的是,他充当了施蒂格利兹通向欧洲现代主义分支的一个信息来源。欧洲画意摄影师们的大量图片——还包括欧洲艺术界主要人物的绘画、素描和其他作品,如奥古斯特·罗丹(Auguste Rodin)、亨利·马蒂斯(Henri Matisse)、保罗·塞尚(Paul Cézanne)、巴布罗·毕加索(Pablo Picasso)和康斯坦丁·布兰库西(Constantin Brancusi)——最早都是通过斯泰肯经由《摄影作品》杂志介绍到美国的。格特鲁德·斯坦因(Gertrude Stein)、莫里斯·梅特林克(Maurice Maeterlinck)以及其他欧洲人和居住在欧洲的美国侨民的文章也发表在这本杂志中。因此,作为《摄影作品》项目的幕后“发现者”,斯泰肯还帮助建立了摄影批评杂志的概念,认为这一媒介与其他媒介的作品相关,对于围绕摄影的讨论可能导向的思想领域抱着最开放、最包容的态度。

斯泰肯在欧洲为《摄影作品》找到的作品,往往最终以施蒂特利兹在曼哈顿经营的摄影分离派“小画廊”(Little Gallery)举办展览告终。(斯泰肯自己的作品也常常装饰着这里的墙面。)最初,画廊占据了斯泰肯1905年腾出来的一个出租单位,他立刻与施蒂格利兹合作,将它重新设计成一系列展厅。他们设想给这个环境来一次彻底改变,从地板到天花板布满了装框精美的作品,悬挂在丝绒帷帘、仿造希腊雕塑底座以及其他饰物当中,这是当时视觉艺术作品沙龙式呈现方式的典型代表。这些新空间始终整洁简单,没有不相干的装饰,涂成白色或中性色,间或点缀覆以粗麻布的展板,展出的作品都是最简单地装框,彼此留出间隔空间,以小的分组方式集中在一起,或者在墙面眼平高度拍成一排。

就像奥利维尔·吕贡(Olivier Lugon)在本书其他文章中所说的,这代表了画廊的现代主义视野的出现,那里是一个类似神圣的、冥想的空间,这种呈现方式数十年后被布莱恩·奥多尔蒂(Brian O’Doherty)戏称为“白立方”(the white cube),并提出这是现代主义项目的核心方面。我们在这里看到了白立方的准确起源:即施蒂格利兹和斯泰肯为展示摄影作品、不同媒介的现代派作品、非洲雕塑等等而设计的空间。



在自己设计的(往往是自我维持的)项目以及各种形式的预约或委托项目之间,摄影师有自己的选择权,这在我们的时代是理所当然的。其中包括了编辑类图片、广告图片、商业广告片中的静物摄影、公司年报插图、影室肖像以及不同用途、不同功能的其他各类摄影。这一切已司空见惯,所以作为一种现象,大体上不为人所注意。那些自我维持、用这类方式来贴补自己更加充满激情的创作活动的摄影师不胜枚举,从今天的威廉·维格曼(William Wegman)、沙拉·曼恩(Sharah Moon)和杜安·迈 克尔斯(Duane Michals),经二战后的戴安·阿勃兹(Diane Arbus)和理查德·阿维顿(Richard Avedon),向前可追溯到上世纪上半叶的莉赛特·莫德尔(Lisette Model)、安德烈·柯特兹(André Kertèsz)、爱德华·韦斯顿(Edward Weston)以及曼·雷(Man Ray)。

很多人以为,这一趋势始于爱德华·斯泰肯。不过,事实上在他之前,有不少著名摄影师都为影室肖像接揽顾客,为批量发行注册自己图片的复制权,或者将他们的才干运用到其他商业方面,以此来维持他们的创作活动,例如十九世纪后半叶的马修·布雷迪(Matthew Brady)以及二十世纪初的威廉·亨利·杰克逊(William Henry Jackson)。斯泰肯的名字也同这一做法紧密联系在一起,因为在他的情形下,决定承揽这样的工作——更重要的是公开赞同这种做法,并且不容置疑地为其辩解——当时引发摄影界这个微观世界内的一场大争议。

1908年,斯泰肯为《人人杂志》(Everybody’s Magazine)拍摄了他第一次接受委派的肖像作品——西奥多·罗斯福(Theodore Roosevelt)和威廉·霍华德·塔夫脱(William Howard Taft)的习作。设计师保罗·波列(Paul Poiret)于1911年委托他拍摄了第一批时装照片。到1923年,斯泰肯开始为纽约广告代理商智威汤逊公司工作,同时担任康泰纳仕集团首席摄影师。他在这一领域里付出的努力,远远超出了仅仅按需要提供照片。在发挥了摄影风格方面的实力外,斯泰肯还在版面设计方面,以及如何在版面上呈现自己(以及其他人)的照片方面给予了相当大的投入。


这些新方法成为现代派摄影的标志(而且尤其是美国版的)。我们可以看到,斯泰肯早在1914年的《忧郁的玫瑰》(Heavy Roses)以及1915年的《莲花》(Lotus)时,就在探索这一手法。接下来十年里,他还会继续运用五花八门的画意派修辞手法(例如1923年的《达娜与圆球》(Dana and the Orb))。而且他短时间内也还会继续采用更手工的制作工艺。乔治·伊斯曼之家藏品中的《达娜与圆球》这张照片,是一张铂金和铁氰盐照片;纽约现代美术馆收藏了一张1921年的钯金工艺照片《口琴之谜》(Harmonica Riddle)。但是到了1920年代中期,斯泰肯对于摄影“替代工艺”的参与就很少了。此后,每当新材料出现时,他都会进行实验(尤其值得注意的是彩色胶片和相纸),但不会再付出进一步的努力去追求自己早期的照片制作工艺。

远在很多人之前,斯泰肯就理解并在自己的摄影创作中采取了现代主义立场。他开始采用欧洲后来称之为“新客观主义”(Neue Sachlichkeit)的手法来创作。在美国,这一趋势被f64小组的追随者们戏称为“纯粹主义”(purism),爱德华·韦斯顿、安塞尔·亚当斯(Ansel Adams)和伊莫金·坎宁安(Imogen Cunningham)都是这个小组的成员,而喜欢这一趋势的人则称之为“直接摄影”(straight photography)。随着拍摄手法中现代主义的日益涌现,斯泰肯摒弃了之前摄影师们(包括他自己)为通过手工制作物品的劳动密集型加工制作而使这一媒介跻身于纯艺术领域——这样就可以自称所获得了本雅明后来所描述的独一无二的手工艺术品的“灵光”——所作的种种尝试,而且远离了他同时代人的此类努力。相反,他沉浸在本雅明著名的所谓“机械复制时代”,全身心地接受这一现象,并且探索其可能性。所以,远在本雅明发表如今闻名遐迩的假说之前十多年,斯泰肯就是按照本雅明后来详细阐明的原则来操作的。




那场战争所涉及到的摄影师们,通常对于军队都要忍气吞声;进入作战地区以及其他有新闻价值的环境,都需要相关指挥系统的批准和其他形式的认可。摄影师所拍摄的照片(大部分记者也是如此)通常要经过严格审查,即便不是通过专为这一目的而设的军事部门,也会由后方在军队强加的严格指导原则下运转的编辑们。因此,“拍摄战争”必然涉及到与一方或另一方的指挥系统合作,提交自己所拍摄的照片,为审查过程撰写故事和图片说明,马格丽特·伯克-怀特(Margaret Bourke-White)、尤金·史密斯(W. Eugene Smith)、李·米勒(Lee Miller)、罗伯特·卡帕(Robert Capa)以及在那个时代接受采访任务的其他无数专职和自由摄影记者,都认为这一事实理所当然。


《胜利之路》(Road to Victory)展览和图书(1942年在纽约现代美术馆首映,卡尔·桑德伯格(Carl Sandburg)撰文,赫伯特·拜尔(Herbert Bayer)展览设计);
影片《战斗夫人》(The Fighting Lady),美国海军发起赞助的纪录片,标题取自斯泰肯和他的团队当作总部基地的航空母舰的绰号(1944年公映,威廉·惠勒(William Wyler)执导,影片由斯泰肯监制,他还创立了影片中所使用的全部全彩色电影摄影);
《太平洋上的力量:我海军在海上和空中行动中的作战照片》(Power in the Pacific: Battle Photographs of Our Navy in Action on the Sea and in the Sky)展览和图录(1945年在现代美术馆首次展出);
图书《美国海军战争摄影:珍珠港到东京港》(U. S. Navy War Photographs: Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Harbor)(1946年,由美国海军资助)。



如今,大型专题群展/书籍已经司空见惯,不仅是在摄影领域,也在所有视觉艺术领域。美术馆大型巡回展也是如此。当我们为这些雄心勃勃——在某些人心目中有些宏大虚华——的事业追根溯源时,一项庞大的计划(远比之前的任何项目更大)表明这类项目引入了一般意义上的国际艺术流通,特别是摄影作品:斯泰肯的自由人文主义代表作《人类大家庭》(The Family of Man),1955年1月在现代美术馆开幕。

当时,斯泰肯已升任纽约现代艺术博物馆摄影部主任,他在1947年开始担任这一职务,这个平台被历史学家克里斯托夫·菲利普斯(Christopher Phillips)称之为“摄影的审判席”(the judgment seat of photography),这位作家形容,这是“当代创意摄影中无疑唯一最有影响力的负责人职务”。斯泰肯越过贝蒙·纽霍尔(Beaumont Newhall)就任此职,为“船长”的事业生涯又平添了一场争议。

回顾过去,斯泰肯全职从事美术馆策展工作,似乎既是必然的,也无可避免地会引起争议。但是甚至在接管现代美术馆摄影部之前,斯泰肯就证明自己在摄影圈之外也是争议的话题。他和他在1940年代中期所表现出的问题,被视为足以引起广泛的兴趣,使得马修·约瑟夫森(Matthew Josephson)1944年在《纽约客》这份影响深远的期刊上所刻画的多疑的、往往刻薄的两面形象似乎显得合理。


不过,轩然大波最终集中在斯泰肯的诋毁者们认为摄影部的展览政策在他的领导下所走的方向上。在他从现代美术馆辞职之前,斯泰肯的前辈,贝蒙·纽霍尔就将自己定位成(而且正如摄影群体所看到的)“纯粹”或“直接”的捍卫者,这个脉络大致从大卫·奥克塔维厄斯•希尔(David Octavius Hill)和罗伯特·亚当森(Robert Adamson)的苏格兰小组,经尤金·阿杰(Eugène Atget)到施蒂格利兹,再到沃克·伊文思(Walker Evans)、保罗·斯托兰德(Paul Strand)、爱德华·韦斯顿和安塞尔·亚当斯。摄影界内部支持该媒介这一演化观的派系,将斯泰肯及其民粹主义倾向和商业与应用摄影领域的记录,视为是对“为摄影而摄影”(photography-for-photography’s sake)这一传统的诽谤。



当然,主要的例外或许是斯泰肯的杰作《人类大家庭》,这是一项大胆的尝试,人们无法想象纽霍尔能够构思或承担这样的项目。新闻图片布局方式以及与建筑设计师保罗·鲁道夫(Paul Rudolph)合作的富有创新精神的展览设计理念相结合,按照斯泰肯自己的编辑决策来选择、并置和缩放图片,无视当时将照片作为艺术品来展示的现有标准方法。这样,他便创造出我们现在所谓的“装置”——展览中有大量的照片,充分利用了来自68个国家273位摄影师的503幅照片。通过这一举动,他和他的项目团队将美术馆摄影展从展览推向了奇观。




当时苏联声望极高的俄罗斯诗人叶甫根尼·叶甫图申科(Yevgeny Yevtushenko)参观了展览,他在展览现场遇到了斯泰肯(后来在那次旅行中拍摄了诗人的肖像)以及他的妹夫卡尔·桑德伯格。叶甫图申科依然记得展览在那个历史时刻和那个特定地点的所具有的力量:“这么多莫斯科人排队等候参观展览——每天都有上千人。可能尤其是我们这一代人,我这一代人。(他出生于1933年)。我和朋友们都梦想着俄罗斯能再次成为共同文明的一部分。我们并不觉得完全迷失了,或者在文化上是孤立的;我们都看过一些西方的伟大著作,法国、美国、英国著作的译本。而且我们从小就理解,俄罗斯文化是欧洲文化的一部分。但是我们希望有某种与世界其他地方实际联系的感觉,某种接触的感觉。这次伟大的展览让我们感受到了这一点。这是一个启示”。

《人类大家庭》也屈从于内在的和外在的政治考虑。埃里克·桑德恩(Eric J. Sandeen)指出,所有版本的展览中放置在正中间的那张令人恐惧的照片——表现氢弹试验的从背后打光的6×8英寸彩色透明片——没有收录在图录中。他指出,这是来自斯泰肯的自我审查,而不是来自出版商或其他各方压力的结果。


展览最后的大幕一直没有落下。1993年,《人类大家庭》巡展版本被精心复原,在法国图卢兹向新一代观众开放,随后前往日本东京和广岛,之后于1994年重返欧洲,在卢森堡克莱沃城堡中专设的美术馆空间里永久陈列——这是迄今唯一在任何地方都给予如此敬意的摄影展。这个展览现场如今已记入联合国教科文组织的“世界的记忆”(Memory of the World)名录。世界各地以这样或那样的形式邂逅斯泰肯这一项目的人们,其数量几乎无法计数。而且这个数字每天还在增加。

《人类大家庭》甚至在诞生前的阶段就充满了正义,而自其诞生之后,更引发了随后半个世纪的争论和研究。摄影师、教师兼编辑米诺·怀特(Minor White)曾在《光圈》杂志发表了一篇有关《人类大家庭》的评论,抨击斯泰肯让个别照片脱离了摄影师全部作品的语境,以便他随自己的意愿改变其意义。展览来到巴黎后,罗兰·巴特给予这个展览以精辟的符号学意义上的抨击。自首展以来几十年间,从雅克·巴曾(Jacques Barzun)到苏珊·桑塔格等评论家,都觉得有必要对这一冒险举动从正反两个方面作出回应。所以,这场争论还远未结束:最近有关这个问题的的书籍和文章的出版,表明斯泰肯最终努力所具有的持久力量。


斯泰肯在《人类大家庭》以外的其他项目至今仍能引起共鸣。1972年,理论家艾伦·塞库拉(Allan Sekula)对斯泰肯一战期间为军队拍摄的航空照片的“早年”印放片进入艺术品市场进行了剖析。1991年,在现代美术馆“项目室”(Projects Room)系列的主持下,艺术家丹尼斯·亚当斯(Dennis Adams)的展览“由特定现场装置组成,其中包括一系列手工制作的橱窗,以及来自1942年现代美术馆《胜利之路》展的大幅照片”。而现在,斯泰肯在上世纪之初制作的一幅照片,创下了摄影作品拍卖价格的新高。在他大体退出公共生活四十多年后,去世后三十多年,与他离开现代美术馆之后的任何时间相比,爱德华·斯泰肯仍然同我们在一起——也许更加如此,而且以更多的方式。


你可以作出自己的选择。我们公认斯泰肯是照片制作方面出色的、终极的维护者,即莱尔·雷克瑟尔(Lyle Rexer)所戏称的“复古的前卫”(the antiquarian avant-garde)。我们认为斯泰肯是批评杂志和摄影“小众杂志”的共同创办人。我们视他为“白立方”这种现代主义艺术展示空间原型的共同设计者。我们视其为将欧洲现代艺术引入美国的第一人。我们认为他是创意摄影与应用摄影——包括广告、编辑、军事和战时宣传——两个领域之间巧妙而具开创性的领跑者。我们视他为他那个时代影响力最大的美术馆摄影部的策展人。我们视他为美术馆展览成为装置的开创者。我们视他为具有教化意义的主题性群展的倡导者。而且我们也将他视为一次影响力最大、观众最为广泛的国际美术馆摄影巡展——连同其专著——背后的组织力量。



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