Sunday, December 21, 2014

Edward Steichen, Wind Fire

Edward Steichen, Wind Fire – Thérèse Duncan on the Acropolis, 1821

Edward Steichen (1879-1973) is among the most prominent American photographers, as well as being a painter and a gallery and museum curator.  Steichen worked closely with Alfred Stieglitz, opening a gallery together that eventually became the famed 291.  Steichen was also an extremely successful commercial photographer, working for Vogue and Vanity Fair, and at one point was the highest paid photographer in the world.  He also did extremely important experiments in the medium, including early experiments with color.  Among Steichen's most famous images is the pictorialist photograph The Pond–Moonlight, an original print of which sold at auction for $2.9 million (then the highest price ever paid for a photograph).  Wind Fire is a fascinating image with an equally interesting backstory.  Steichen was visiting Venice when he met up with the famed dancer Isadora Duncan, whose troupe was on its way to Greece.  With the promise of capturing Duncan dancing on the Acropolis, Steichen tagged along.  The pair did produce some impressive photographs, but it is with Duncan's daughter Thérèse that Steichen produced this remarkable piece.  The younger Duncan posed around the Greek monuments wearing a Greek-style garment, and at one point Steichen lost sight of her.  When she called out to him he swung the camera around toward her and the wind pressed her garments to her while leaving the ends flapping around; "they actually crackled," said Steichen, giving the impression of fire, hence wind fire.  In Steichen's words, Thérèse was "the living incarnation of a Greek nymph."

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