Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879–1973)
Gum bichromate over platinum print
18 13/16 x 15 1/8 in. (47.8 x 38.4 cm)
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933 (33.43.43)
In 1904, with the lessons of his first Paris sojourn still fresh in his mind, Steichen turned his camera to his newly adopted city and to the astonishingly tall, twenty-two-story skyscraper designed by the Chicago architect Daniel Burnham for a triangular lot at the intersection of Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and 23rd Street. In The Flatiron, Steichen's chromatic range consciously echoed Whistler's Nocturne paintings, and the branch jutting in from the picture edge recalls similar devices found in the Japanese ukiyo-e prints that were much in vogue in turn-of-the-century Paris. Although indebted to these influences, Steichen's iconic photograph is decidedly modern and American in its subject, with the soaring structure rising so high above the activity of the street that it cannot be contained within his frame. While all three versions of The Flatiron were printed from the same negative, Steichen achieved varied coloristic effects, suggesting successive moments of twilight, by brushing layers of pigmented gum bichromate over platinum prints—a technique he had learned in Paris. Crown jewels of the Museum's photography collection, Steichen's prints of The Flatiron remain prime examples of the conscious effort of Photo-Secession photographers to assert the artistic potential of their medium and to rival painting in scale, color, and individuality.