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Steichen and Capa: Two Photographic Exhibitions “Samuel Fuller at War” and “Best Photograph of Gary Cooper”

Yoko Kitamura
Associate Professor of the School of Culture, Media and Society, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

I went to see two photographic exhibits: “Edward Steichen in High Fashion The Condé Nast Years 1923 - 1937” (Jan. 26 to Apr. 7) at the Setagaya Art Museum, and “Two Photographers: Robert Capa Centennial and Gerda Taro Retrospective” (Jan. 26 to Mar. 24) at the Yokohama Museum of Art. Steichen was born in 1879 and died in 1973. Capa lived from 1913 to 1954. Despite an age difference of more than 30 years, these two American photographers were active during the same period. It was very enjoyable to compare their works.

First, I will discuss the Steichen exhibit. I was touched by the display of 3 valuable portraits of the actress Joan Bennett. My only knowledge of Joan Bennett had been her role in Fritz Lang’s movie as a seductive woman who had Edward G. Robinson wrapped around her little finger. However, Steichen photographed Bennett as a pure and innocent blond-haired girl. I was also overwhelmed by the ghastly portrait of movie director Josef von Sternberg.

“There never has been a period when the best thing we had was not commercial art.” “It is seen in the Louvre, so it is art. Let’s make Vogue into a Louvre.”—Quotes by Steichen were written on the walls of the exhibition venue. Steichen was correct when he said that “art is profitable.”

Next is the exhibition of Capa, who was a much more celebrated photographer than Steichen. When going to the Capa exhibition, my thoughts were filled with the portrait that Capa took of the movie director Samuel Fuller (1912 to 1997). Fuller is known for the gangster film House of Bamboo (1955) and the war film The Big Red One (1980). In Japan, several precious DVDs of his early works were released last year, which was the 100th anniversary of Fuller’s birth. Before starting to film movies, Fuller worked as a journalist. He also volunteered as an infantryman in WWII, participating in the Invasion of Normandy and was present at the liberation of a concentration camp. Capa took a portrait of Fuller at a battleground. The two men were almost of the same age.

At the Capa exhibition, other than battleground photographs, I was overjoyed to encounter a photograph of actor Gary Cooper. It is said the Cooper was invited by Ernest Hemingway to spend a holiday together with a group including director Howard Hawks. Set against a background of fields and mountains, the photograph shows Cooper, with a fishing pole in one hand, crossing a small river by balancing skillfully on a round log bridge. One look at the photograph shows Cooper’s athleticism and stature, in addition to his handsome face.

There was also a photograph of Cooper at the Steichen exhibition. It showed Cooper as a handsome and elegant actor, dressed in a suit and looking out onto the audience. When looking at these two images of Cooper on the internet, many people may be drawn to the dignity of Steichen’s photograph. However, when viewing actual prints at the exhibition venues, no one would hesitate to select Capa’s photograph as the winner.

Robert Capa: Samuel Fuller in Troina, Sicily (published in Life magazine)

Robert Capa: Gary Cooper, Sun Valley, Idaho (October 1941)

Edward Steichen: Actor Gary Cooper (1930)

Yoko Kitamura
Associate Professor of the School of Culture, Media and Society, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Graduated from the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I with a major in art history and French literature. After graduating from the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, assumed her current position as Professor.
Her specialty is modern French painting, historical criticism and cultural history.
Her translated works include Film is a Battleground! (written by Samuel Fuller; Chikumashobo, co-translated) and Collected Paintings of Daumier I—Various Politicians (Misuzu Shobo).