These self-portraits, made over a period of 27 years, exemplify the evolution of Steichen’s style and intentions from his time as a member of the Photo-Secession to his work as a leading commercial photographer.
In the earliest image, he holds a palette, modeling the belief that the success of photography as art could only be achieved through painterly handicraft and mastery. This notion is further attested to by visible brushstrokes in the print.
The next portrait, made around 1917, on the eve of Steichen’s participation in the war, shows a dramatic shift toward directness and clarity—the palette has been exchanged for a studio view camera.
In the third portrait, created during his tenure at Condé Nast, Steichen presents himself as an entrepreneurial observer. This image was later included as the only self-portrait in a Vanity Fair article that featured images of famous photographers taken by their colleagues.
Figure 1. Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879–1973). Self-Portrait with Brush and Palette, 1902. Gum bichromate print; 26.7 x 20 cm. Inscribed recto, lower left, in graphite: “Steichen / MXIIIVII”; verso unchecked. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949.823. © 2015 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Figure 2. Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879–1973). Self-Portrait with Camera, c. 1917. Platinum print; 25 x 19.8 cm (image); 33.8 x 29.2 cm (paper). Restricted gifts of Brenda and Earl Shapiro and the Smart Family Foundation; Laura T. Magnuson Acquisition, Comer Foundation, the Mary and Leigh Block Endowment funds; restricted gifts of Sidney and Sondra Berman Epstein, Karen and Jim Frank, Marian Pawlick; Ethel T. Scarborough, Hugh Leander and Mary Trumbull Adams Memorial Endowment, Betty Bell Spooner funds; restricted gifts of Vicki and Thomas Horwich, Robin and Sandy Stuart; Samuel A. Marx Purchase Fund for Major Acquisitions, S. DeWitt Clough, Photographic Society, Irving and June Seaman Endowment, Morris L. Parker funds, 2008.243. © 2015 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Figure 3. Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879–1973). Self-Portrait, c. 1929. Gelatin silver print, probably printed by an assistant; 25.3 x 20.3 cm. The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment Fund, 1996.411. © 2015 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.