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Edward Steichen - George Washington Bridge 1931

By Pete      
This week's classic photo is by American photographer Edward Steichen and titled George Washington Bridge. It appears in the book 50 Photographers You Should Know published by Prestel.

Worthy of its classic status? Let's hear what you think

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User_Removed 13 2.2k 3 United Kingdom
11 Aug 2010 3:43PM
Undoubtedly a very interesting photo but what came first, the idea or the lens ? Is it something that he created as a result of seeing what a wideangle lens could do or did he conceive of the image and then shopped around to find a lens that would do the job ? Grin A bit too chopped off at the top and the bottom to make me feel like it's a great piece of work.

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cats_123 Plus
16 5.0k 30 Northern Ireland
11 Aug 2010 3:50PM
Well...if I saw this in a gallery, I would say...that's nice and walk on by...when I study it further, I would still walk on by. Sad

Undoubtedly fabulous dof and looks impressive. Opened in this would have been one of the first shots taken and everyone would have marvelled at it, just as we would today.

Being picky, I think the symmetry is not quite there...the far tower is slightly off me if you are aiming at symmetry you have to get it right...the architect would have done so.

There's some interesting facts at Wiki..that put the bridge in a different light, but we are only commenting on this image. What it doesn't and couldn't is show the whole bridge for real perspective, but that helps me realise that you can't always get everything in the frame.

Would probably be in the top 10 for 1931...but perhaps not now. Smile

over to the next...
EllieEdge 12 15 42 Norway
11 Aug 2010 4:33PM
I agree with Cats123 that if you are goint for symmetry it should be perfect! However - I don't think an experienced photographer like Steichen tried and missed. Or didn't think about it. If he wanted symmerty he would have know to position the camera in the middle of the bridge. To me the bottom right corner seems to be just where he wants it to be. I love his composition here - how he makes the eye wanter around along the lines of the image, go down to the corner and then to the people. Never once does my eye wanter outside the image.
Paul Morgan 19 19.4k 6 England
11 Aug 2010 9:45PM
Viewing the image here does`nt do it any justice, this has been available in print form for years.

None the less its an image that I never warmed to and have to agree with cats.
IanFlindt 15 740 21 United Kingdom
11 Aug 2010 9:46PM
Looking at some of his non-portrait images on the Masters of Photography website, Steichen appears to have been fascinated with man-made shapes, especially when he could turn them into a form of abstraction. I wonder if, in this case, his interest in the effect of the light on the iron structures on the right of the arch persuaded him to allow that part to dominate at the expense of symmetry.
conrad 15 10.9k 116
12 Aug 2010 2:18PM
Ian may have a good point about a possible reason for the photographer concentrating on the right-hand side and not making a symmetrical composition. But it doesn't increase my appreciation of the image in any way, I agree with the criticism above.
Dave B 17 113 United Kingdom
12 Aug 2010 9:12PM
I've never seen this before (blimey, and it's one of 50 photographs I should know etc ).

I'm currently doing a project which includes the contrast of strong -v- weak .... and this smacks of strong through & through. The 'stance' of the foreground structure is imposingly strong (Gigantor the space-aged robot ... if you are old enough), reeks of strength. A good echo in the distant support tower. A very graphical/geometric image. The light on the RH side of the foreground structure gives the image a depth of tone that would not be there on a cloudy day.

Do I like it ..... no, not really. An exercise to be examined, nothing more. Afraid I've failed in the '50 photographs I should know' category Sad

Dave B.
JohnParminter 13 1.3k 14 England
12 Aug 2010 10:15PM
Extremely dull and uninteresting subject for me so I can't commit any time to actually viewing it.

Can't comment on it's photographic qualities as it doesn't look at least a bit interesting for me I'm afraid.

IanFlindt 15 740 21 United Kingdom
12 Aug 2010 10:51PM

Quote:But it doesn't increase my appreciation of the image in any way, I agree with the criticism above

I agree also. Whatever his intentions, the image leaves me cold. You can't help feeling that there's strong compositional potential with a structure like this. And yet that potential has been lost by the photographer's adoption of an uncomfortable and uneven perspective.

It's interesting that Pete chose this of all Steichen's images. I didn't know anything about him until now, but I gather he was best known as a fashion and portrait photographer. Architectural studies were clearly not his forte. Perhaps a skill in one genre is not always easily transferred to another.
Nick_w Plus
13 4.3k 99 England
13 Aug 2010 10:29AM
I can only agree with what has been said before. But I think its one of those images that is showing the effects of time. People have done such subjects much better since. Tho in its era it was before modern lens optics, HDR & review screens - all of which would have helped. Was this the original "Tone" if so itdetracts for me.
clicknimagine Plus
10 641 100 India
15 Aug 2010 7:55AM
i really do not want to repeat the comments above, truly speaking i do not think this is a classic image,

but some elements are here which is quite unusual particularly the perspective, the composition is also quite unusual,

it might be the first shot of this kind, but we have came across so many that this image is not at all working on us...
SteveCharles 17 2.3k 18 England
15 Aug 2010 11:30AM
I wasn't familiar with this as a classic image, but I don't think it should be denied classic status because of modern sensibilities. Much of the comments critique the image as if a contemporary picture uploaded to the gallery, but it's important to respect photographs, and any artwork, as products of their time and part of the evolution of photography. It doesn't impress as a photograph now because it can be reproduced or bettered by anyone with a camera, but my view is that it's because photographers did this sort of thing 80 years ago that photography is popular now, it's a link in the chain of influence. People often question whether photographs by the old masters (HCB is often used as an example) would win awards here, but it completely misses the point because without those photographers and their work, we may not even have photography websites.

Putting it into the context of it's time, it was made in 1931, the year the bridge was finished. This is a photograph of modernism, progress, of a brand new structure in a rapidly developing world. It's possible that Steichen couldn't access a spot to get a perfectly symmetrical image, but I don't think it matters as it's not necessarily the point of the image.
ade_mcfade 16 15.2k 216 England
16 Aug 2010 1:41PM
Looks like a pioneering photograph that really emphasizes the size of this bridge

easy to reproduce now - yeah, just need an utrawide on a 5D and you'll get something like this.

but as has been said, in context of its time, it must have been a real breakthrough shot - and more importantly, idea.
randomrubble 15 3.0k 12 United Kingdom
20 Aug 2010 4:28PM
I think this is quite interesting. I'm not at all familiar with this image, or to be honest with Steichen's work a awhole. As a 1930's photograph it's like a poor imitation of Rodchenko. It seems to be striving for the same sublime evokation of the power of engineering and design but doesn't quite make it for me. But then it's hard to match the standards set by a genius like Rodchenko!
pennyspike 17 2.1k 29 United Kingdom
24 Aug 2010 12:43AM
I'm not sure that this would make it into my list of all time greats and I admit to never having heard of him before. There is the impression of what it must have been like to go through it when it was first opened. Scrolling down is quite effective.
I'd be interested to read pete's take on this and the other images he's chosen so far.

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