Edward Steichen - Photographs New York Wednesday, April 3, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    From the Collection of Joanna Steichen
    Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
    Fleischmann Vintage Works, Zurich

  • Literature

    Galerie Zur Stockeregg, Thirty Years: 1979-2009, pl. 8
    Steichen, A Life in Photography, pl. 73
    Steichen, Steichen's Legacy: Photographs, 1895-1973, pl. 236

  • Catalogue Essay

    Following his active duty in World War I, and in conjunction with the evolving aesthetic of the late 1910s, Edward Steichen’s approach to photography underwent a remarkable transition. Heretofore, the noted photographer had established a favorable reputation as the Pictorialist photographer, par excellence. His images from the turn of the last century—characterized by their soft focus, heavily crafted printing processes, effusive lighting and stylized subject matter—became emblems of Pictorialism. As one of the leading proponents of the movement, Steichen’s work was consistently reproduced in Camera Work under the auspices of Alfred Stieglitz. Steichen’s goal was to transcend the mechanical and documentarian aspects of photography, which he considered to be hindering the field’s acceptance as a veritable form of art. It is not surprising, therefore, that following his trip to The Louvre in 1901, Steichen proclaimed about Claude Monet’s majestic Impressionist paintings: “it seemed to me that he worked on canvas the way I tried to work with a camera.” However, by the late 1910s, his vision of photography had changed.

    By the time Camera Work’s publication came to a halt in 1917, Stieglitz had already been advocating an essentially Modernist approach, one in which photography’s mechanical and documentarian aspects were celebrated, not suppressed. Accordingly, clarity in line and tone were embraced to spectacular results. On both sides of the Atlantic, photographers such as Paul Outerbridge Jr., Jaromír Funke, László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray, among others, intrepidly delved into the newfound Modernist approach. No longer constrained by the need to emulate painting, Modernist photographers experimented with harsh lighting, dramatic shadows and angular forms. In this vein, Edward Steichen’s Diagram of Doom - 2, circa 1922, is a crowning achievement in Modernism.

    The period between 1920 and 1923 was marked by technical and stylistic exploration for Steichen. It was then that he discovered the possibility of utilizing the tenets
    of photography and vicariously found abstraction. By employing dramatic angles and closely cropping his frames, Steichen produced images that were more metaphoric
    than literal. Focusing on the form, volume and scale of his subject matter, Steichen abandoned the attempts to convey its likeness. Indeed, in Diagram of Doom - 2,
    even the title appears to nod at the film-noir genre that was popular at the time, hinting at the underlying element of fantasy, mystery and detachment from reality.

    The formalist qualities in Diagram of Doom- 2, such as the sharp focus, clear interplay between light and shadow, the depiction of two-dimensional silhouettes within a three-dimensional space, and scant range of tones collectively allowed Steichen to completely separate from his former Pictorial work. By using chiaroscuro lighting and zooming in on his subject, Steichen reduced the butterfly to its shape, which he then accentuated with a severe diagonal shadow, melding the object with its shadow to form an alternate, enigmatic shape that is as ominous as it is mesmerizing.



Diagram of Doom - 2

circa 1922
Palladium print.
9 3/4 x 7 3/4 in. (24.8 x 19.7 cm)
Titled, dated and annotated ‘Perm Col.’ in an unidentified hand in pencil on the verso.

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $122,500

Contact Specialist
Vanessa Kramer Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs
+ 1 212 940 1245


3 April 2013
New York