Early works of powerful force in U.S. photography

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Early works of powerful force in U.S. photography

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An exhibition of early works by one of the most influential American photographers and curators is being held at a small Insadong gallery in central Seoul.
Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was a prominent 20th-century figure in the field of soft-focus pictorialism ― an artistic black and white photo trend that reached its height during the early years of the 20th century.
His pictures are proudly presented by Kim Ho-geun, a photography professor at Seoul Arts College and the curator of the Early Works of Edward Steichen Exhibition.
“All the photos exhibited here are nearly 100 years old,” said Mr. Kim. “These are so rare you can’t even find them in books.”
The exhibition Mr. Kim has organized includes 12 of the works Steichen produced in his early period before 1927. However, the pictures are not original in the definition of being “vintage prints,” meaning the copies the photographer initially printed from the original negative.
“A lot of visitors asked whether these are vintage prints,” Mr. Kim said. “But we have to first remember that these are reproductions of rare works.”
In sizes ranging from 5x7 to 11x14 (inches), the photos Mr. Kim selected are from a portfolio the Aperture Foundation reproduced from plates made of the original negatives and vintage prints.
His subjects ranged from self-portraits through landscapes (as seen above) to fashion. His self-portraits and landsacpes feature in the Korean exhibition.
For the soft-focus effect, Steichen blurred his camera lenses by applying glycerin or exhaling on them, creating condensation. Sometimes he shook the tripod to obtain the blurry effect. Some critics at the time faulted Steichen’s photos for distorting details, but he continued experimenting, also painting onto printing papers. After the First World War, however, Steichen became a proponent of “straight” photography.
The photographer was also a curator of New York’s Museum of Modern Art for 15 years. It was Steichen who first brought the works of John Marin, Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi, Cezanne and Rodin to the United States at Gallery 291, which he co-founded.


by Lee Min-a

The Early Works of Edward Steichen Exhibition is at Gallery Vook’s, Insadong. The gallery is on the third floor opposite the Insadong Starbucks and is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The exhibition runs until next Tuesday. For more information, call (02) 737-3283.

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