"I want my epitaph to testify that I have been a loving mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend; and I have taught, written, and lived with joy."
— Penelope Niven
Praise for Steichen: A Biography

The New York Times Book Review

Niven complements her own clear, lyrical voice with the eloquent words of Steichen's contemporaries.... she succeeds in weaving the many threads of Steichen's life into a seamless narrative.

Kirkus Reviews

While working on her well-received biography of Carl Sandburg (1991), Niven became fascinated by the poet's brother-in-law, the pioneering photographer Edward Steichen (18791973). That fascination led to this massive volume. Steichen is a pivotal figure in the history of the visual arts in 20th-century America, a brilliant photographer who was at the center of the battle for recognition of that medium. A protean figure, Steichen was not only an artist but a scientist and a war hero. He acquired his first camera at 16; by the age of 20 he was exhibiting in prestigious juried shows. But the key event in Steichen's young adulthood was his sojourn in Paris, where he discovered his true calling as an artist, forged friendships with a number of influential artists, including Rodin and Picasso, and emerged as a major figure in the burgeoning world of photography. He would push his art form to the forefront with the exhibit ``The Family of Man'' in the mid-'50s, still the most widely seen photo show in history. All through his lengthy career, Steichen would be hounded by an unhappy marriage that left him estranged from one of his two daughters for many years (his granddaughters cooperated with Niven for this volume). His achievements are so many, his career so long and the ripples emanating from his circle of acquaintances of photographers, painters, and writers so variegated that it would be hard to encapsulate his life in fewer pages than Niven uses. Niven's handling of Steichen's turbulent personal life is candid without being prurient. Highly informative, and an absolute necessity for understanding the development of photography as an art form in the first half of this century.

Publishers Weekly

In 1895, when he was 16, Edward Steichen bought his first box camera; when he died at 94, he had long been both an eminent art photographer and the most famous fashion and documentary cameraman in America. Remembered now for his collaboration with his one-time rival Alfred Steiglitz, Steichen was a photographic revolutionary, the most successful commercial cameraman of his time and a leader in aerial reconnaissance photography in both world wars. Also a painter and an impresario, he exhibited Matisse, Rodin and Picasso in Paris, London and New York while promoting inventive American photographers at home and abroad. In trying to write about Steichen, Niven, the biographer of his brother-in-law Carl Sandburg, encountered the opposition of Steichen's third wife, who at 26 married the 81-year-old bearded veteran. Many photographs were denied to Niven, as well as permission to quote from Steichen's unpublished letters. Still, Niven evokes the colossus of American photography in detail. By the end, Steichen was less passionate about photography as ""one of the fine arts,"" feeling that its primary function had become ""to explain man to man and each man to himself."" Niven's narrative chronicles that personal and professional transition.