Steichen made this self-portrait in Milwaukee, shortly before leaving for Europe to seek his fortune as a "painter-photographer." En route to Paris, he stopped by the New York Camera Club to show his work to Alfred Stieglitz, the reigning dean of art photography. That day, Stieglitz bought this photograph, along with two other platinum prints, for five dollars apiece, telling his young visitor, "I am robbing you at that."
In this eccentric self-portrait of the artist as a young dandy, Steichen seems poised at a threshhold, hovering half-in and half-out of the frame. Much like Whistler, Steichen used the portrait as a vehicle for exploring abstract elements of design, cleverly punctuating the white wall behind him with a tiny empty picture frame.