Steichen Gloria Swanson
Gloria Swanson
© Edward Steichen

At this point of the exhibition there’s a spiral staircase that leads you to the second half of the exposition. While climbing the stairs, delirious sounds of machines, engines and factories surround my ears, and I think that should mean a definitive passage to modern photography. I go up full of trepidation, convinced that photos of machineries, factories, trains, palaces are hidden over there, waiting for me. In point of fact, delusion is total. The second floor is practically plenty of mode pictures, portrait and ads.

Obviously, they’re interesting and some of them stunning, but surely supernumerary. They’re fascinating, as they tell the story of an entire époque and its high society, but they’re seriously too much. The second part of the exhibition is practically dedicated to worldly images that finally are terribly annoy for they repetitiveness. The worst thing is that, compared to many other shoots, they’re insignificant works, probably commercial ones; they are interesting only because they represent a well-known character, a star of the past. These pictures, historically important, are put aside images of extraordinary strong expression and beauty, as Greta Garbo portrait, one of the most touching shot of the actress.

Steichen Greta Garbo
Greta Garbo
© Edward Steichen

For sure, worldly and commercial photography played a big role inside Steichen’s career. It is interesting seeing the ads he produced, but the number of fashion images and portraits is definitely disproportionate compared to the entire exhibition; a more severe selection would have been useful to the second part of the exposition, a little bit boring and repetitive. The problem was born by a contemporary confusion on what art is or generally on what merits to appear in museum. I don’t think Steichen thought about exposing in one of the most important Parisian museum when he took his aerial reconnaissance pictures from the military planes over Europe. Obviously in a retrospective some of those pictures are justified, to have a complete idea of all the areas the photographer touched. The same should be for mode and high society ones. It is known that Steichen had an intense activity of portraitures and fashion photographers for several years. It is also known he put seriousness and honesty in realizing commissioned works. Anyway this is not a good reason to build a retrospective where more than half of the presented works are dedicated to those themes.

Steichen White
© Edward Steichen

In any case, apart from that the exhibition has been an amazing opportunity to deepen Steichen’s work, one of the major figure of the ‘900 photography. It allowed the live study of some wonderful platinum prints, carbons, gum bichromates, unforgettable photogravures and even superb dye transfer. Prints that still have a lot to teach. Moreover, it has been the occasion to admire some of the most famous pictures of the history oh photography.

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