Edward Steichen, the son of Jean Pierre and Marie Kemp, was born in Luxembourg on 27th March 1879, only three years before his family migrated to the United States. In 1889, when Edward turned 10 they moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In 1894, Edward Steichen did an apprenticeship for four years in lithography with Milwaukee’s American Fine Art Company. He sketched, drew and taught himself to paint. A camera shop was situated on the path to his work and he visited it often. One day, in 1895 he finally convinced himself to buy a Kodak box camera. Steichen along with his friends, who were also fascinated by photography and drawing, chipped in money and rented a room in a building and formed a group called Milwaukee Art Students League. For lectures as assistance, they hired Robert Schade and Richard Lorenz. In 1900, Steichen became United States naturalized citizen.
In 1903, he married Clara Smith with whom he had two daugters, Katherine and Mary. Steichen in 1923 after divorcing Smith, married Dana Desboro Glover. However, she died in 1957 because of leukemia. In 1960, Steichen once again married and this time to Joanna Taub when he was 80 years old. Joanna died at the age of 77.
While his personal life was taking twists and turns, his professional life was progressing. In 1900, Edward Steichen came across Alfred Stieglitz in New York while heading for Paris from Milwaukee. Stieglitz immediately praised Steichen’s work and bought three of his photo prints. In 1902, Stieglitz requested Steichen to make a logo design for the upcoming photographic journal Camera Work. Later, Steichen frequently contributed to the journal. Two years later, Steichen introduced color into his photography and experimented with its possibilities. In the United States, he was the first to use the process of Autochrome Lumière. A year later, both Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz formed the 291 art gallery which was previously known as Galleries of the Photo Secession. It was the first American gallery to hold exhibitions of Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Rodin, Constantin Brâncuși and Henri Matisse. In 1911, Lucien Vogel challenged Steichen to employ photography and endorse fashion as fine art. Steichen photographed gowns by Paul Poiret and the images were published in the Art et Décoration. After World War I, he steadily moved to fashion photography.
Steichen was the Director at the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit during World War II and The Fighting Lady, his documentary was Best Documentary at the Academy Award in 1945. Steichen remained the Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York after the war till 1962. He is acknowledged for an exhibition at MoMA which consisted of 500 photographs from 68 countries portraying love, death and life. The exhibition is permanently dwelling in Clervaux, Luxembourg. In 1962, John Szarkowski was appointed by Steichen to take his designation at MoMA.
In 1963, Lyndon Baines Johnson, the President of United States at that time, presented Steichen with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. After a decade, Steichen died and three years before his death Martin Boschet presented Steichen’s photographs during The Recontres d’Arles festival in 1970.
In 2006, a print of The Pond – Moonlight, Steichen’s photograph from 1904 was sold for $2.9 million, the highest bid for a photograph at an auction at the time. It was in Mamaroneck in New York that Edward Steichen took this picture near his friend’s house. It illustrates a pond and woods with moonlight shining the pond through the trees. Then a year later, Steichen’s color photographs were displayed in Luxembourg’s Museum of Modern Art of Grand Duke Jean.