Anatomy Becoming Botany
Guest Post by Tessa Ostvig, Marketing Intern
Edward J. Steichen pulled up the rear of the Pictorialists, or the aesthetic movement that was founded on a common ground and flourished into a multi-petaled movement. He and his counterparts in the decades after the Photo-Secession movement explored the intricacies found in ‘straight photography.’ Two exemplary pieces featured in the current exhibition Photo-Secession: Painterly Masterworks of Turn-of-the-Century Photography demonstrate this symbolic and artistic take on the straightforward method of picture-taking.
Blossom of White Fingers is a beautiful, overexposed study of Steichen’s wife’s hands. They are depicted in such an incorporeal way that they seem detached from the body; a separate ethereal entity. They, in their tone and form so similar to flowers, give image to the “blossom” in the title, making his metaphor a visual masterpiece. Steichen’s botanical studies led to a fascination with the swirls and spirals found in nature, and he again makes a cross between anatomical studies to botany in his piece, Backbone and Ribs of a Sunflower. This highly contrasted piece is inches away from the skeleton of a sunflower stalk. Given the macrofocus and the dramatic shadows, the stems transform into cadaverous curves. These two pieces and their overlapping themes give ground to the yet artistic realism that ended the era of Photo-Secession.