STEICHEN by Penelope Niven

STEICHEN

A Biography

KIRKUS REVIEW

 While working on her well-received biography of Carl Sandburg (1991), Niven became fascinated by the poet's brother-in-law, the pioneering photographer Edward Steichen (18791973). That fascination led to this massive volume. 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. (50 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-517-59373-4
Page count: 800pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1997




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