Object of the Month

Title: George Washington Bridge
Artist: Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Nationality: American
Date: 1931
Medium: Vintage gelatin silver print
Credit: Gift of the Hollander Family in Honor of Morton and Mimi Schapiro. 2012.10.28. © Permission of the Estate of Edward Steichen.

Luxemburg-born American artist and curator Edward Steichen (1879–1973) began studying painting and photography as a teenager at the American Fine Art Company of Milwaukee. At the age of twenty-one, Steichen met and impressed the current leader in American photography, Alfred Stieglitz, and they quickly formed a master-protégé relationship. Using this friendship to launch his career, Steichen became renowned for his portraits of artists, writers, and celebrities as well as his use of the gum bichromate process which produced luminous, painterly images with subject matter ranging from nudes, to landscape, to urban imagery. From 1923-1938 Steichen worked as a commercial photographer for the Conde Nast magazines during which he became the highest paid and most widely known photographer in the world.

Though best known for his profound influence in fashion photography, Steichen created exceptional photographs of several subjects including landscapes, architecture, performance, and documentary photography. Like his celebrity images, George Washington Bridge (1931) highlights the glamour and spectacle of the structure which had recently opened. Steichen photographed the bridge from the perspective of a passing car, magnifying the scale and marvel of the new construction which stood as a testament to the wonders of modern engineering. The photo also captures the elegance of the design of the bridge by emphasizing the strong geometrics of the steel and linear patterns of the arch and cables. This formal arrangement further accentuated the structure’s innovation as it referenced the modernist abstraction of the avant-garde.