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Edward Steichen Fashion Photo Exhibit Opens at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale
People enter to view photographs by Edward Steichen during a media preview at the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. An exhibit titled "Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, the Conde Nast Years, 1923-1937" will run through April 11 at the museum. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee.

By: Lisa Orkin Emmanuel, Associated Press Writer

FORT LAUDERDALE (AP).- Images of actresses and models in fashion's finest clothing, many of them looking straight into the camera under dramatic lighting: This is the Edward Steichen of the early 20th century.

Steichen, one of the world's most influential photographers, is the subject of an exhibit that has come to the U.S. after starting out in Europe. "Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, the Conde Nast years, 1923-1937," started last week at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale and runs through April 11.

More than 200 of Steichen's celebrity and fashion photos from his years as chief photographer for "Vogue" and "Vanity Fair" magazines are on display. The magazines were published by Conde Nast.

"One of the great things about Steichen when you go through the show, it's as if all the women in those images were all born in those clothes," said one of the curators, William Ewing, director of the Musee de l'Elysee in Lausanne, Switzerland. "Today nobody looks at a Kate Moss picture and believes she lives in those clothes. There is no credibility to the contemporary fashion photograph. Perhaps that's the aim."

Steichen's goal was to make clothes appear appropriate and attainable, Ewing said.

"The other thing that was amazing about him is that he never repeated himself," Ewing said. "His signature is that he suppressed his signature ... Steichen was much more modern in the sense that he effaced himself."

Many of the black-and-white photographs are of celebrities of the day including Gary Cooper, Adele and Fred Astaire, Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Amelia Earhart. There were politicians, like Winston Churchill, and even poets, like William Butler Yeats, who posed with his hair askew. French writer Colette is included. Gloria Swanson is depicted with a black veil over her face and actress Joan Crawford is in dress by Elsa Schiaparelli. The photographs are categorized by years.

All the photographs in the fashion exhibit are original vintage prints, meaning they were made when the negatives were made. Most came from the Conde Nast archives.

The show originally accompanied a Steichen retrospective that toured Europe from 2007 to 2008. The fashion exhibit has since traveled throughout Europe and will go to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., in May.

Ewing, along with museum colleague Nathalie Herschdorfer, Todd Brandow at the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, and Carol Squiers, a curator at the International Center for Photography in New York, put together the fashion exhibit.

Steichen, who was born in Luxembourg and came to the U.S. with his parents when he was an infant, had become a successful painter and photographer by the time he was offered the position as chief photographer for Conde Nast's two magazines. He worked there 15 years, until 1937.

At age 66, he became director of photography for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he put on the famous "The Family of Man," show in 1955 and more than 40 other exhibitions. He died in 1973.

"He is one the most important figures in fashion photography," Squiers said. "He really starts to work with the models in terms of trying to portray the modern woman, someone who is forthright." That approach, she said, has influenced contemporary photographers as well.

Squiers said Steichen's work shows aspects of others artists of his time.

"There is a soft monumentality of Rodin that he brings into his pictures but also the great understanding of abstract form that Brancusi brings," she said.

Ewing said he sees the exhibit as two separate archives: fashion and celebrity portraiture.

For the Fort Lauderdale exhibit, designer Ivonne de la Vega has created a gown valued at $20,000, which will be raffled off.

"He revolutionized fashion photography and pioneered a new visual language of glamour, profoundly shaping the look of celebrity and fashion to this day," said Irvin Lippman, executive director at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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