Primary Research – Edward Steichan – In High Fashion: The Conde Nast Years 1923 -1937

What was it?

An exhibition documenting the work of Edward Steichan and Vivian Sassen during the Conde Naste Years

The American photographers striking approach to fashion and portrait photography is displayed in over 200 prints from his Condé Nast years.

There may be 90 years separating the work of Edward Steichen and Viviane Sassen, but the approaches of each have changed the landscape of fashion photography, so it’s fitting that the Photographers’ Gallery should exhibit these two visionaries at the same time.

‘In High Fashion, The Condé Nast Years 1923-1937’ presents 200 prints by Steichen from the New York publisher’s archive. Already an established artist, with collaborations with French couturier Paul Poiret under his belt, Steichen took up the post of chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair in 1923. Displayed chronologically and often clustered together in sets of two or four, the sepia prints offer an extensive overview of Steichen’s two main subjects, fashion and portraits. From the latest sandal to a 1926 headshot of World Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, Steichen’s images capture the electric allure and elegance of the roaring ’20s. But it’s Steichen’s use of staged studio lighting coupled with considered compositions that feels effortless. It created a new visual language for subsequent generations of photographers.

That legacy is certainly evident in Viviane Sassen’s multimedia installation ‘Analemma’, which refers to the route of the sun’s path over the period of a year.It’s an unconventional display of constantly moving projected imagery. Lithe beauties wearing contemporary garb against urban backdrops or rocky landscapes travel over the gallery’s floor moving up, down and across the walls. The Dutch photographer’s unorthodox approach not only to the fashion campaigns she shoots but also how she presents her work, injects a much-needed alternative perspective on an industry often considered vacuous. Through Sassen and Steichen’s eyes, there’s more to fashion photography than models wearing haute couture. It’s a reflection of life in all its guises; it’s about character, vitality and vivacious eccentricity.

How does it relate to my Research?

As an FPI student, aspiration and branding is going to constitute a significant component of my FMP outputs.  My experience of 7001 and 7002, highlighted to me that I am particularly interested in and appear to have a natural affinity with, the field of imaging, however my lack of experience in fashion, means that this is something I am going to have build through my 7003 research as a foundation to ensure success in my FMP.  I have therefore dedicated a significant component of my research this term to developing my experience in this area through a combination of primary and secondary research and experimentation to create my own images.  This will all be collated into a Promotional Imaging Lookbook I intend to create as one of my 7003 research outputs.

I came across Edward Steichan during my secondary research into fashion photography.  However seeing his work in reality bought an additional dimension of understanding to everything I had read.  Particularly in combination with Vivian Sassen, through highlighting how significant Steichans influence on the industry was in regards to the ‘visual language’ of fashion photography.  In particular I was struck by Steichans carefree and dynamic style, which captured the life and vitality of his subjects, removed from the static imagery which had preceded him.  It is this life,dynamism and vitality which I am interested in reflecting; my FMP is all about individuality and embracing people on the basis of difference to challenge discourses such as fashion, which pressure people to live and look a particular way.  I know that I will return to Steichan as a significant influence when I begin to craft my FMP promotional Imaging proposal.

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