Dana Steichen’s Hands


Steichen uses his painterly style with the camera to weave together the sinuous hands of his wife amongst some dried flora in the woods.

Edward Steichen, Dana Steichen's Hands, 1923, palladium print on paper, 9 1/2 x 7 1/4 inches. Acuired 2007; Bequest of Isadore and Kelly Friedman
© 2020 The Estate of Edward Steichen / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Edward Steichen was a visionary determined to show that photography was an art form as well as a craft, which explains the painterly style characterizing his early images. Early in his career he was an aspiring painter as well as a photographer, which gave his early photographs a tendency toward Pictorialism, specifically, softly focused edges and a range of color. Here, Steichen weaves together a pair of sinuous female arms amongst erect thistle and against an ethereal outdoor background. The hands belong to the photographer’s second wife, the actress and future photographer Dana Desboro Glover, whom he married in 1923, the year he made this romanticized image.

Steichen grew up in Wisconsin and showing an early interest in art, studied at the Milwaukee Art Students League and became an apprentice lithographer; later he studied painting in Paris. Steichen started to photograph in 1896 and entered prints for the salons, where they attracted the attention of Clarence White and Alfred Stieglitz. Steichen eventually co-founded with Stieglitz the Photo-Secessionist group, which was dedicated to promoting photography as an art form. Dividing his time between New York and Paris, he sent Stieglitz modern art from Paris to publish in Camera Work and display in his 291 gallery. Steichen’s varied photography career also included: serving as a commander of aerial reconnaissance photography for the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I; chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair, where his portraits of actresses and actors defined the Golden Age of Hollywood; head of US Navy photography in World War II; and finally, director of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art until he retired in 1962 at age 83.