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Oct 18 - Mar 02

National Gallery of Victoria, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, , VIC 3006, Australia
  • Edward Steichen, Model wearing a black tulle headdress by Suzanne Talbot and a brocade coat with black fox collar. Courtesy Condé Nast Archive © 1925 Condé Nast Publications

  • Edward Steichen, White (center Gwili André). Courtesy Condé Nast Archive © 1935 Condé Nast Publications

  • Edward Steichen, Marlene Dietrich. Courtesy Condé Nast Archive © 1934 Condé Nast Publications


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Edward Steichen & Art Deco fashion at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, dedicates a major exhibition to the work of pioneer photographer Edward Steichen, with more than 200 photographs from his archive, along with a wide selection of garments and accessories from the 1920s and 1930s. The exhibition aims to capture, as the curators state, the sophistication of the modern woman and the elegance of high-end fashion from this golden age of fashion and photography. Edward Steichen was born in 1879 in Luxembourg and at a very young age he moved with his family to the United States, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. When he was 16 years old he came across a camera shop near his work and he soon began to experiment with photography. After a successful career at the legendary Camera Work magazine, Steichen became the official fashion photographer of Conde Nast (1923- 1938) and his striking portraits and glamorous photos shoots for Vogue and Vanity Fair acquired great fame.

At this time, photography was dominated by pictorialism, an international style that approached photography as a tool that, like paintbrush, could be used to make an artistic statement, and Steichen was deeply inspired by it. “The 1920s pictures really have a direct link to what was known as pictorialism, that school of art photography which often used atmospheric lightning and soft focus. So there’s a kind of gentle, slightly romantic quality to them, and they’re often photographed in what looks like domestic interiors” said recently Susan van Wyk, the National Gallery of Victoria’s senior curator of photography, to Time Out. “By the late ’20s there’d been a real shift in his work… You get much cleaner, more pared-back images. You start to see details of more modern furniture and interiors.”

Steichen’s unparallel use of studio light, his approach to every fashion shooting as if it were a portrait shooting as well as his preference for models with strong personality revolutionized fashion photography and influenced generations of succeeding photographers. Edward Steichen & Art Deco fashion exhibitions reflects, through the amazing selection of Steichen’s photographs, the influence that Art Deco had in fashion photography. At the same time, the accompanying selection of outfits, with examples by leading designers of the day including Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet, Madame Paquin and Callot Soeurs, reflects the changes throughout the 1920’s and the 1930’s of the slip dress and coat and the emerging of the newly liberated “Modern Woman”. “Although Steichen claimed, somewhat romantically, that he got his effects by “the complete merging of myself in the personality of my subject, a complete loss of my own identity”, his genius lay in his ability to distance himself from a subject, analyzing his or her foibles with a cool, practiced eye. He combined this talent with a feeling for composition that owed a debt to the Old Masters he studied in museums.” wrote recently John McDonald in his excellent review for The Sydney Morning Herald. “His greatest revelation was that in fashion and celebrity photography the clothes and settings were important, but it was the character of the model that made the seduction complete.”

Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion is a touring exhibition from the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis, augmented by works from the National Gallery of Victoria and public and private collections in Australia. The exhibition is organized by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography (FEP), in collaboration with the National Gallery of Victoria, and will be on view until March 2.