[Battlefield at Vaux, France]

Edward J. Steichen American, born Luxembourg

Not on view

Steichen fled Paris for New York in the autumn of 1914 at the onset of World War I. Three years later, he returned to France, wanting to become "a photographic reporter, as Mathew Brady had been in the Civil War." Steichen made aerial photographs for the United States Army's air reconnaissance division; his pictures were used to survey enemy territory, record enemy movements, and locate gun encampments.
A small village made up of stone houses, Vaux had been occupied by the Germans since the beginning of June 1918. With the aid of the local stonemason, the Second Division of the United States Marines drew up plans for an artillery barrage to retake the town building by building. The battle began at dawn on July 1, and the Marines reclaimed the village by noon the same day, effectively blocking the German advance on Paris.
World War I obliterated the last vestiges of the nineteenth century from Steichen's work. His painterly prints of rarified subjects gave way to pictures made with a new clarity of form and graphic precision designed specifically for the printed page. The photographer's stylistic "return to order" exemplifies the broader cultural search for an aesthetic clean slate after the war.

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