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RALPH STEINER

and FORTUNE

 

ERNEST BREECH OF FORD, APRIL 1950
BISSELL'S BIG SWEEP March 1960
PHOTOGRAPHS SENT to me in his letters
LETTERS AND DECORATED ENVELOPE TO CHRIS MULLEN 1984

PORTRAITS OF BUSINESSMEN from 1949

THE MOST HOUSE FOR THE MONEY, OCTOBER 1952

 

Ralph Steiner (1899-1986) was an obvious person to approach to understand the nuances and the tidal flow of working as a freelance for FORTUNE (see correspondence above). Walker Evans had been appointed Special Photographic Editor by Del Paine in 1946, a position he held for twenty years. He undertook the occasional exercise in executive portraiture but clearly his heart wasn't in it at tfirst. He farmed the work out to Ralph Steiner from 1948, although he would often go along if the locale was of interest. Evans had excepted Steiner from his cavalcade of despised photographers as early as 1930, according to Lincoln Kirstein's Diary. The first FORTUNE series of 'the new managers of American great corporations' was published in Novemeber, of T.M.Petersen President of Standard Oil of California. After the conventional sequence of Head and Shoulders (often with the most bovine of expressions extracted from the sitter) Steiner developed the genre further in a narrative form of portraiture in the workplace, almost setting his actor in an Industrial Theatre.

Steiner was a graduate of the Clarence White School of Photography in 1922. He was also to establish a dynamic career as an experimental film-maker and cameraman. There is evidence that Evans admired aspects of Steiner's imagery such as his street photography but was loathe to confess it. The occasional slighting reference to Steiner's Jewishness is disturbing, but such nastiness is not uncharacteristic. I suspect it was Steiner's later innovative approach that revealed to Evans the possibilities in the Businessman of the Month feature, Capitalism's equivalent of the Playboy gatefold.

The Bissell feature is a commission very much to Evans' own configuration. He may even have written the text for Steiner's sole exercise in a portfolio of images for FORTUNE.

Steiner worked extensively for other magazines of the day, LOOK and Vogue in particular. He retired in 1960 but was active in advertising photography for the agencies. In 1978 his own account of himself was published under the title, A Point of View.

 

 

 

 

 

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