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Home Town New York City
Last Address Edward Steichen died, at his farm "Umpawaug", in West Redding, CT, two days short of his 94th birthday. His ashes were buried near a huge outcrop of boulders on his estate, exactly as he had requested.
Date of Passing Mar 25, 1973
Last Known Activity:
Captain Edward J. Steichen, USN Ret.
Army & Navy Combat Photographer WWI & WWII Received the French Legion of Honor,
Distinguished Service Medal,
the Presidential Medal of Freedom,
and Commander of the Order of Merit (Germany)
Edward Steichen (born Eduard Jean Steichen, 27 March 1879 in Bivange, Luxembourg) was one of the premier photographers of his generation. Aside from being one of the first to go into color photography, he also helped usher in the era of fashion photography.
During WWI he joined the Army Photographic Corps at the age of 38. He joined the Navy in January 1942 at the age of 63.
Steichen had retired in 1938, and closed his studio to devote his time to plant breeding. Soon afterwards he would find himself trying to reenlist in the military at the age of 61 as America faced the prospect of World War II. After his third attempt to reenlist he was commissioned a Lieutenant Commander in 1942, and headed the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, which documented aircraft carriers in action. His first assignment was to complete an exhibition he had started for The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1941, on national defense. He organized the extremely popular exhibition "Road to Victory" that had 150 images and opened in May 1942, at MoMA. The show then traveled to many American cities and to London, Australia, and South America.
He directed the creation of the war documentary "The Fighting Lady," chronicling the battles of the crew of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown, which won the 1944 Academy Award for Best Documentary.
In 1945, his second joint Navy and MoMA exhibition, "Power in the Pacific," went on display. He was officially discharged in 1945, at the age of 67, and received the Distinguished Service Medal. Steichen left the Navy with the rank of Captain, as Director of the WWII Naval Photographic Institute.
Steichen was the recipient of many awards, some of which include his status as Chevalier of France's Légion d'Honneur, awarded in 1919, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), and the Commander of Order of Merit, Germany (1966).
In 1963, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President John F. Kennedy, however Kennedy was assassinated before he could present it. President Lyndon B. Johnson presented it to him in December 1963.
Edward Steichen died in West Redding Connecticut on March 25, 1973, at the age of 94.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the President of the United States and is—along with the comparable Congressional Gold Medal bestowed by an act of U.S. Congress—the highest civilian award in the United States.
"Aircraft of Carrier Air Group 16 return to the USS Lexington
(CV-16) during the Gilberts operation, November 1943."
Photographed by Commander Edward Steichen, USNR.
Naval Aviation Photographic Unit
The Naval Aviation Photographic Unit was a group of military photographers in the United States Navy during the Second World War, under the command of Edward Steichen.
The Navy had established this special group in early 1942, shortly after the US entry into the war, to document and publicize its aviation activities and allowed Steichen to recruit the most talented photographers he could find. Steichen and his unit initially reported to Capt Arthur W. Radford, and were made part of the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics.
Because Steichen wanted an unusual amount of control over the unit, outside the purview of the Navy's pre-existing photographic community, and because Radford agreed with him, it was decided the unit would operate out of the Bureau of Aeronautics' Training Literature Division, which was under Radford's direct command. This is why the unit's official name was "Training Literature Field Unit No. 1." However, informally it was referred to as the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, and is generally referred to that way in the literature about it.
The main purpose Radford had for the unit was to promote the recruitment of pilots specifically for the Navy. Radford believed there was competition for a limited talent pool between the Navy and the Army Air Corps, and that attractive, top-rate photography in the press, posters, and leaflets would help the Navy reach its quota of 30,000 new pilots each year.
Wayne Miller, one of the unit's photographers, remembers Steichen's instructions this way: " 'I don't care what you do, Wayne, but bring back something that will please the brass a little bit, an aircraft carrier or somebody with all the braid; spend the rest of your time photographing the man.' It was Steichen's prime concern—don't photograph the war; photograph the man, the little guy; the struggle, the heartaches, plus the dreams of this guy. Photograph the sailor."
Radford was given command of Carrier Division 11 in July, 1943. Rear Admiral John S. McCain, Sr. was made head of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and thus Steichen's commander. McCain was pleased by the results Steichen and his photographers were getting, and supported them fully, including seeing Steichen promoted to full Commander. McCain also had Steichen do portraits of senior Navy officers, in the Vanity Fair style for which Steichen was known, to smooth relations for the unit among differing commands.
Steichen's responsibility increased to the point where, in early 1945, he was made director of a newly formed Naval Photographic Institute, and given formal control over all Navy combat photography.
The unit was largely demobilized after the end of the war in August, 1945. As those servicemen with the most time overseas received priority in demobilization, almost all of the unit were home by Thanksgiving.
The group of photographers Steichen originally chose for the unit were:
Lieut. Wayne Miller
Lieut. Dwight Long (who specialized in movies, not photography as such)
Lieut. Charles E. Kerlee
Lieut. Charles Fenno Jacobs
LCdr. Horace Bristol
Ensign Victor Jorgensen
Ensign Alfonso ("Fons") Iannelli
Steichen wanted Ansel Adams to be part of the unit, to build and direct a state-of-the-art darkroom and laboratory in Washington, D.C. In approximately February, 1942, Steichen asked Adams to join. Adams agreed, with two conditions: He wanted to be commissioned as an officer, and he also told Steichen he would not be available until July 1. Steichen, who wanted the team assembled as quickly as possible, passed Adams by, and had his other photographers ready to go by early April. Among the photographers whom Steichen later added in early 1945 was Morley Baer who remained with the Unit until the end of the War.