Exhibition Review: Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion
NGV International, Southbank. Victoria
Until March 2, 2014
An age of elegance captured forever
A large exhibition of Steichen at the NGV International reveals photography at its most brilliantly self-conscious.
It’s photography with a mid-Atlantic accent, the suave patter of charming old movies that makes everyone highborn in the same way, irrespective of their continent.
Known in photographic history mainly for lyrical pictorialism around 1900, Steichen enjoyed fame and a lucrative career from 1923, working for Conde Nast as a fashion photographer until 1937.
Prior to this high-flying appointment, Steichen already displayed instincts for high society, making connections with famous people and building up his personal brand by association and talent.
It’s hardly an insult to say that Steichen’s world became artificial. Nothing is real: everyone is striking a pose.
It’s the prestigious world of modelling, acting, scripting and brand-management.
Looking at Steichen’s portraits, it’s remarkable that so many actors find it so hard to act naturally. Even his writers look conceited; and the women, who are young and flawless, appear swaddled in money, showing off their imaginative costumes in the mixtures of flamboyancy and moodiness that we still recognise in the genre today.