Edward Steichen is one of the most important figures in the history of photography. During his active career, which lasted over half the life span of photography, he was renowned as an artist, fashion photographer, curator, writer, and technical innovator.
He was also a passionate advocate for photography as an art form, and led, along with Alfred Stieglitz, an aesthetic revolution that enabled photography to be considered as a medium capable of interpretation and expression, and not as a mere documentary record of visual facts.
Steichen took up photography in 1895, at the age of sixteen, and was self-taught. During his early career, around the turn of the century, he was associated with a style of photography known as Pictorialism. Pictorialists felt that the aesthetic promise of photography lay in an emulation of painting. Steichen's early work, then, adopted many Pictorialist techniques such as a jiggled tripod, a lens bathed in glycerin, or various darkroom tricks designed to produce painterly, soft-focus effects. During this period, Steichen was also a painter, until he burned all his canvases in 1922.
In 1905, with Stieglitz, he founded the famous Little Galleries of the Photo Secession at 291 Fifth Avenue in New York, later the 291 Gallery, to promote photography as an art form in particular, and European Modernism in general.
Steichen soon came under the spell of the new art movements with their abstract geometries, and he gradually abandoned his Pictorialism in favor of straight photography with a strong sense of design and clean, uncluttered images and compositions.
Steichen went on to command the photographic division of the United States Expeditionary Forces in World War I, and to direct the Naval Photographic Institute in World War II. During the 1920s and 1930s he worked as a commercial photographer for Conde Naste publications including "Vogue" and "Vanity Fair," and from 1947-1962 was Director of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1955, he organized the famous Family of Man exhibition which toured the world.