Edward Steichen (1879 -1973)
The Open sky, 11 p.m.
H. 25.2 cm ; L. 22 cm
“Your photographs will make the world understand my Balzac,” Rodin said eagerly in 1908, when Edward Steichen showed him the nocturnal Balzac series.
Rodin had not forgotten the scandal that broke out in 1898 over the work he considered the very essence of his aesthetic . Rodin’s statue had made a big impression on the young Pictorialist photographer, when he was still living in the United States and when a local newspaper, based in Milwaukee (Wisconsin), had published a picture of the work. Seven years after the two men first met in Paris, the sculptor commissioned Steichen to photograph his Balzac – still only in its plaster state – “by moonlight”.
Steichen spent two entire nights working in the gardens in Meudon, exploring all the possibilities of taking pictures by moonlight – a new experience – and, using very long exposure times lasting from 30 minutes to two hours, produced some spectacular shots. He carefully noted down the time at which he took each picture – The Open Sky was taken at 11pm – and where he stood. He was such a perfectionist that he then spent several weeks in his laboratory to find the unique greenish blue tint that enhances the night effect. He himself wrote that his photograph looked so much like a canvas that he felt he had “painted” Balzac.