Fred Astaire Photographed by Edward Steichen

Edward Steichen became the official photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair in 1923, and soon began to take accomplished early fashion photographs and celebrity portraits. His work from this period is characterised by graphic compositions with dramatic contrast and strong lighting. It was a sharp, modern aesthetic that was ideal for the time and at odds with his earlier Pictorialist style.

Like his contemporary, Cecil Beaton, Steichen was a master networker and self-promoter. He was very conscious of the power of association and his new position at Condé Naste provided him with a large platform from which to display his talent. Already the best paid photographer in the world thanks to his $15,000 per year exclusive contract with the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, he soon became the best-known photographer too.

Steichen took this portrait of Fred Astaire for Vanity Fair in 1927, when Astaire was starring in the musical Funny Face (Gershwin and Gershwin), during its original run on Broadway. He starred alongside his sister, Adele Astaire, who worked as his dance partner until her marriage in 1932. Funny Face opened on 22 November 1927, as the very first show at the newly built Alvin Theatre, and marked Astaire’s first performance in evening dress with top hat, a striking look that would come to define his career.

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