The first great American fashion photographer, Edward Steichen, is present on the walls of the Reynolda House in Winston-Salem. The brilliance of the images along with the textual quotes from Steichen himself create an exhibition that is inspiring and motivational for a young artist, especially one interested in photography.
Steichen’s pieces line the walls chronologically, each photo portraying an actress, dancer or singer, every pose elegantly lit against dramatic backgrounds. Copies of Vogue and Vanity Fair were also displayed around the gallery to fully accompany the photographs and their influence on the magazines. As chief photographer, Steichen was able to shoot subjects like Katharine Hepburn, Martha Graham, Fred Astaire and Gloria Swanson. While scanning the walls of the gallery, older visitors remarked loudly to one another and discussed actresses and actors that I was simply passing by. The atmosphere in the Star Power exhibit gave me a nostalgic feeling for a time that I had never been a part of.
Not only were the photographs iconic but next to selective pieces, the exhibition gave specific information and quotes from Edward Steichen himself. These excerpts were almost as interesting as the glamour photography; the explanation of how the photograph was taken was sometimes witty and almost always exemplified Steichen’s ability to guide the subject.
“Never let the sitter get bored, never let on that you are at loss, even if you are. Ideas will come up as you work. Never lose control of your sitter. Keep moving. Keep taking pictures. Many of them. Then, when you know you have it, stop”
The photograph above featuring Martha Graham, a modern dancer, was taken in posed segments. Graham, understanding that Steichen could not take photographs of her dancing since high speed film had not been invented yet, used her clothing as a form of expression that was also dramatically lit by the studio lights. I think the exerpts and quotes that the Reynolda House displayed allowed me to connect much more to these photographs, I was able to understand how the relationship between the sitter and the photographer was conducted.
As a photographer myself and one who struggles with working with models, I took this exhibition seriously for my own growth and my own connection to my models. Primarily working with self-portraits, I read the quote (stated above) and quickly jotted it down for my own personal motivation. Edward Steichen’s studio work was not successful because of his lights or his models role in society but rather his relationship with them and his veracity in order to create interesting photographs.
The photograph above was placed next to a plaque that explained what occurred before this photo was taken by Steichen. When Greta Garbo walked into Edward Steichen’s studio space, her hair was curled and falling over her eyes in an “inappropriate” manner as Steichen stated. Complaining about her movie-star look, Garbo completely agreed and with a simple statement of “oh, this hair“, pulled the curls tightly back with her hands and revealed the subject manner that Steichen was so desperately looking for.
Without traveling to the Reynolda House, I would have missed out on these precious excerpts that commented on famous glamour shots that I had seen time and time again. Simply viewing the photographs on a computer screen does not compare to the framed images in the Star Power exhibition.
The visit is highly advised to Guilford students and the admission is free for us! Even if fashion photography isn’t on a list of interests, the entire atmosphere of the Reynolda House is worthwhile.