Category Archives: Film

Edward Steichen – To Catch an Instant

“Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. [It is] a major force in explaining man to man.”

Steichen Quoted in Time Magazine, “To Catch the Instant” 7 April 1961

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Edward Jean Steichen (March 27, 1879 – March 25, 1973) photographed by
Fred Holland Day (1901)

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Edward Steichen. Self-Portrait with Studio Camera. c. 1917

 

Born in Luxembourg, Steichen moved to the United States in 1881.  1894, at the age of fifteen, Steichen began a four-year lithography apprenticeship with the American Fine Art Company of Milwaukee. After hours, he would sketch and draw, and began to teach himself to paint.

Having come across a camera shop near to his work, he visited frequently until he bought his first camera, a secondhand Kodak box “detective” camera, in 1895. Steichen and his friends who were also interested in drawing and photography pooled together their funds, rented a small room in a Milwaukee office building, and began calling themselves the Milwaukee Art Students League.

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The artist Alphonse Mucha, as photographed by Edward Steichen, c. 1895

Steichen met Alfred Stieglitz in 1900, while stopping in New York City en route to Paris from his home in Milwaukee. In that first meeting, Stieglitz expressed praise for Steichen’s background in painting and bought three of Steichen’s photographic prints.

 He was elected a member of London’s Linked Ring Brotherhood in 1901.
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Camera Work

In 1902, when Stieglitz was formulating what would become Camera Work, he asked Steichen to design the logo for the magazine with a custom typeface. Steichen was the most frequently featured photographer in the journal.

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Edward Steichen, The Flatiron c. 1903

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Edward Steichen, The Big White Cloud, 1903

Edward Steichen + The Pond - Moonrise + 1904 + platinum print with applied colorMetmuseum
Edward Steichen – The Pond – Moonrise, 1904
Edward Steichen, Moonlit Landscape, 1903
Edward Steichen, Moonlit Landscape, 1903
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Edward Steichen, Cooper’s Bluff-Moonlight Strollers, 1905

In 1904, Steichen began experimenting with colour photography. He was one of the first people in the United States to use the Autochrome Lumière process. In 1905, Stieglitz and Steichen created the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which eventually became known as 291 after its address. It presented among the first American exhibitions of Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Constantin Brâncuși.

Edward Steichen, Rodin, le Monument à Victor Hugo et le Penseur, 1902

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Edward Steichen, Rodin, le Monument à Victor Hugo et le Penseur, 1902

In late summer 1908 Rodin moved the plaster of his sculpture of the French writer Honoré de Balzac out of his studio and into the open air so that Steichen, who disliked its chalky aspect in the daylight, could photograph it by the moon. Waiting through several exposures as long as an hour each, Steichen made this exposure at 11 p.m., when the moonlight transformed the plaster into a monumental phantom rising above the brooding nocturnal landscape. Steichen recalled that when he presented his finished prints some weeks later, an elated Rodin exclaimed: “You will make the world understand my Balzac through your pictures. They are like Christ walking on the desert.”

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“Open Sky” Rodin’s Balzac 1908 Reproduction:© 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In 1911, Steichen was “dared” by Lucien Vogel, the publisher of Jardin des Modes and LaGazette du Bon Ton , to promote fashion as a fine art by the use of photography. Steichen took photos of gowns designed by couturier Paul Poiret, which were published in the April 1911 issue of the magazine Art et Décoration.

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Edward Steichen, a Paul Poiret design

According to Jesse Alexander, this is “… now considered to be the first ever modern fashion photography shoot. That is, photographing the garments in such a way as to convey a sense of their physical quality as well as their formal appearance, as opposed to simply illustrating the object.”

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Edward Steichen, with what is deemed is the first “fashion photoshoot”, 1911

Steichen practiced painting in Paris intermittently between 1900 and 1922; there he met Rodin and was exposed to modern art movements, and was thus able to advise Stieglitz on exhibition selections.
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Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz and His Daughter Katherine

“The break between Stieglitz and Steichen came on the verge of the United States’ entry into World War I, perhaps chiefly because Steichen was a dedicated Francophile and Stieglitz was openly sympathetic to Germany. Or perhaps it was because Steichen had come to believe that Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession and its instruments—291 and Camera Work—had become the vehicles for a personality cult.

After the war he replaced the rather vaporous symbolism of his earlier Pictorialist style with optical clarity and greater objectivity of description. Steichen spent several years experimenting with realistic effects of light, tone, and shadow; during this period, he famously photographed a white cup and saucer against a black velvet background more than one thousand times, hoping to achieve a perfect rendering of subtle gradations of white, black, and gray.

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Edward Steichen, Lighters

In a further reaction to what now seemed to him pious Photo-Secessionist attitudes, Steichen threw himself wholeheartedly into commercial photography, establishing a successful commercial studio when he moved to New York City in 1923. He devoted the next 15 years of his life primarily to fashion photography and celebrity portraiture for Condé Nast publications such as Vogue and Vanity Fair and to advertising photography for the J. Walter Thompson agency. Most notably, as part of his work for Condé Nast, Steichen created striking portraits of figures such as Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and Charlie Chaplin that helped to define the era.

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Edward Steichen, Isadora Duncan at the Columns of the Parthenon, Athens, 1921

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Edward Steichen, Gloria Swanson 1924
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Edward Steichen, Martha Graham 1931
Edward Steichen, White, 1935
Edward Steichen, Study in White for Vogue, 1935
He closed his very successful studio on January 1, 1938, and spent much of the next four years pursuing his long-time avocation of plant breeding at his home in Connecticut, concentrating on the delphinium in particular.
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Edward Steichen with his delphiniums, 1938
One month after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. Navy made Steichen a lieutenant commander in charge of directing a photographic record of the naval war in the Pacific.
In 1947 Steichen was named director of the department of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, a position he would hold until his retirement 15 years later. “The Family of Man,” an exhibition he curated in 1955, was arguably the most important work of art in his long career. The exhibition was based on the concept of human solidarity, and Steichen selected 503 images from countless prints submitted from all over the world. It is said that the exhibition was seen by almost nine million people in 37 countries. Steichen went on to curate many smaller exhibitions at the museum, some of which were the first substantial shows of the work of important younger photographers, thus continuing his role as a tireless advocate of the medium throughout the remaining years of his career. His autobiography, A Life in Photography, was published in 1963.
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Portrait of Edward Steichen by Philippe Halsman, 1955
Sources:
International Centre Photography: https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/edward-steichen

 

The Night of the Hunter – The River song and Lullaby

The film’s score, composed and arranged by Walter Schumann in close association with Laughton, features a combination of nostalgic and expressionistic orchestral passages. The film has two original songs by Schumann, “Lullaby” (sung by Kitty White, whom Schumann discovered in a nightclub) and “Pretty Fly” (originally sung by Sally Jane Bruce as Pearl, but later dubbed by an actress named Betty Benson).

The film was shot in black and white in the styles and motifs of German Expressionism (bizarre shadows, stylized dialogue, distorted perspectives, surreal sets, odd camera angles) to create a simplified and disturbing mood that reflects the sinister character of Powell, the nightmarish fears of the children, and the sweetness of their savior Rachel.
In a 2007 listing of the 100 Most Beautiful Films, Cahiers du cinéma ranked The Night of the Hunter No. 2

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Night_of_the_Hunter_%28film%29

The Dignity of Daring

In the film, “Withnail & I”,  we see a pair of actor friends who are both down on their luck. They support each other, and though they bicker constantly, they are also deeply dependent on each other.

This film has achieved cult status in the UK – the clever script has many quotable expressions, the characters are recognisable as people we know, or wish we knew, or maybe wish we hadn’t known.

But it is the relationship between Withnail, and “I” – who’s name we only hear once when he is referred to as Marwood – that leaves the strongest impression on us. The story ends with Marwood leaving town, and the viewer is torn between wishing the best for Marwood, whilst feeling the pain of Withnail, who, despite being a very flawed human being, we have come to love.

Yet we know that Marwood has made the right decision.

In the words of Karlfried Graf Durckheim (1896 – 1988):

“The man, who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it. Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him.

In this lies the dignity of daring.”

Here’s the script for that final scene in Witnail & I

I:  Right, I’m off now.

Withnail:  Already?

I:  My father will pick up my stuff in the week and do something

about the car.

Withnail:  But I’ve got us a bottle open. Confiscated it from Monte’s

supplies.  53 Margaux. Best of the century

I:  I can’t Withnail, I’ll miss the train.

Withnail:  There’s always time for a drink.

I:   I haven’t the time.

Withnail:  Alright, I’ll walk with you to the station. We can drink it

through the park. [He grabs his coat and an umbrella and takes

the bottle.]

The Park [It is pouring down with rain. Withnail offers the bottle to I]

I:   No thank you, no more.

Look, it’s a stinker Withnail, why don’t  you go home.

Withnail:  Because I want to walk you to the station.

I: No, really, I really don’t want you to.  I shall miss you Withnail.

Withnail: I’ll miss you too.

[I departs. Withnail walks to the fence and leans against it.]

 Withnail: I have of late, but wherefore I know not,

lost all my mirth and  indeed it goes so heavily

with my disposition that this goodly frame

the earth seems to me a sterile promotory;

this most excellent canopy the air, look you,

this mighty o’rehanging  firmament,

this majestical roof fretted with golden fire;

why, it  appeareth nothing to me

but a foul and pestilent congregation of  vapours.

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,

how  infinite in faculties, how like an angel in apprehension,

how like a God!

The beauty of the world, paragon of animals;

and yet to  me, what is this quintessence of dusk.

Man delights not me, no, nor women neither,

nor women neither.

“I” is not afraid of the change, whereas Withnail has employed

his familiar tactics in an attempt to delay his friend,

who has possibly been given a small acting part in a stage play

that may lead to a brighter future.

At the very least it will be an alternative future.

“I” refuses the bottle proffered by his old friend, saying

“No thank you, no more” and then “I can’t Withnail, I’ll miss the train”…