At the start of World War I in 1914, Edward Steichen was a pioneering champion of art photography—catapulting to fame as a leading member of the Photo Secessionists and as cofounder of the trailblazing magazine Camera Work. Yet by the early 1920s, Steichen had rejected the soft focus, dreamy landscapes and portraits of his early years in favor of realist photographs made for informational purposes or popular consumption. This turning point was first marked by his role in World War I as chief of the Photographic Section of the American Expeditionary Forces from 1917 to 1919; it was fully realized in his subsequent work as lead photographer at Condé Nast publications from 1923 to 1937.
While on military duty, Steichen helped adapt aerial photography for intelligence purposes, implementing surveillance programs that had a lasting impact on modern warfare. He later reflected: “The wartime problem of making sharp, clear pictures from a vibrating, speeding airplane ten to twenty thousand feet in the air had brought me a new kind of technical interest in photography. . . . Now I wanted to know all that could be expected from photography.” Steichen began to value photography’s capacity to transmit and encode information, and he soon proved his savvy as a collaborator and producer rather than a solitary auteur—new skills that enabled his subsequent groundbreaking career in magazines. Upon his return to New York in 1923, Steichen joined Condé Nast publications, creating iconic fashion photographs and celebrity portraits for Vogue and Vanity Fair. Over a period of nearly 15 years he created images that redefined the field through their clever use of modernist aesthetics and advertising tactics, becoming an influential impresario who promoted photography as a mass-media tool.
Focusing on rarely seen Steichen photographs drawn from the Art Institute’s collection, this exhibition includes a unique album of over 80 World War I aerial photographs assembled and annotated by Steichen himself as well as a group of iconic glamour portraits and fashion photographs done for Condé Nast, featuring notable figures such as Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire, and Gloria Swanson.
Sponsor This exhibition is made possible by the generous support of the Black Dog Fund.
16 hours 24 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—Otis Kaye incorporated currency into a series of works as a commentary on the close relationship between art and commerce. Heart of the Matter shows a torn-up representation of Rembrandt’s Aristotle with a Bust of Homer with a stack of cash hanging from its center. The painting was purchased at the time for a record-breaking price. Kaye sought to critique the commercialism at the “heart” of the art world while paying tribute the great artists who make it possible.
See our new acquisition—Otis Kaye's Heart of the Matter—on view in Gallery 262.
21 hours 6 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW OPEN—To Build a Modern Campus: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the Illinois Institute of Technology, 1939–1948
Former Bauhaus director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe began designing the IIT campus mere months after arriving in Chicago. To Build a Modern Campus examines both the project’s exemplary expression of modern technology and the social struggle of those displaced by its construction.
2 days 23 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago "We still live in a country where only tragedy teaches us the names of invisible men."
Chicago Reader visits Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem, on view through August 28.