In the early twentieth century, Edward Steichen was part of the Photo-Secession group created by Alfred Stieglitz in 1902 to promote pictorialism in the United States. For his portraits, landscapes or nudes, Steichen invented masterly layouts and made remarkable gum bichromate prints.
During the First World War, he served in the air force as an intelligence agent for the Allies. This experience changed his approach to photography. His vision became precise, clear, a far cry from the haziness of the pictorialists and typical of modernism. He was not alone. Other members of Photo-Secession, particularly Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, began to evolve towards 'straight photography' at the same time.
When he returned from the war, Steichen worked in fashion photography and made portraits of actors and actresses which have remained famous. Tiring of this activity, which he found boringly repetitive, he began to take an interest in contemporary New York architecture.
In this night view taken in his studio, Steichen links up with the light and shade effects and vertical lines of his famous pictures of Rodin's Balzac . They are also reminiscent of the photographs taken by Stieglitz from a window in the Shelton hotel in 1927. In Stieglitz's work there was nonetheless a desire to record the changes in his local area which is not found in Steichen's photographs. He was simply interested in creating powerful images from the bare, sparing, resolutely modern rectangles of New York's skyscrapers.