Edward Steichen was an American photographer, painter, and art gallery and museum curator. Steichen was born in Luxembourg, his family initially immigrated to the United States in 1880. In 1894, at the age of fifteen, Steichen began a four-year lithography apprenticeship with the American Fine Art Company of Milwaukee. In 1895, he bought his first camera, a secondhand Kodak box "detective". Steichen and his friends pooled together their funds, rented a small room in a Milwaukee office building, and began calling themselves the Milwaukee Art Students League.
Steichen was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1900. He married Clara Smith in 1903. They had two daughters, Katherine and Mary. After their divorce in 1922, Steichen married Dana Desboro Glover in 1923. She died of leukemia in 1957. In 1960, at the age of 80, Steichen married Joanna Taub and remained married to her until his death.
In 1904, Steichen began experimenting with color photography. He was one of the first people in the United States to use the Autochrome Lumière process. In 1905, Stieglitz and Steichen created the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which eventually became known as 291 after its address. It presented among the first American exhibitions of Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Constantin Brâncuși.
In 1911, Steichen was "dared" by Lucien Vogel, to promote fashion as a fine art by the use of photography. Steichen took photos of gowns designed by couturier Paul Poiret. His photos of gowns for the magazine Art et Décoration in 1911 are regarded as the first modern fashion photographs ever published. From 1923 to 1938, Steichen was a photographer for the Condé Nast magazines Vogue and Vanity Fair while also working for many advertising agencies including J. Walter Thompson. During these years, Steichen was regarded as the best known and highest paid photographer in the world. In 1944, he directed the war documentary The Fighting Lady, which won the 1945 Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Serving in the US Army in World War I (and the US Navy in the Second World War), Steichen commanded significant units contributing to military photography. After World War I, during which he commanded the photographic division of the American Expeditionary Forces, he reverted to straight photography, gradually moving into fashion photography. Steichen's 1928 photo of actress Greta Garbo is recognized as one of the definitive portraits of Garbo.
After World War II, Steichen was Director of the Department of Photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art until 1962. While at MoMA, he curated and assembled the exhibit The Family of Man, which was seen by nine million people.