1927: Pushing Technique Further

After a year on the job, Sheeler began to feel the strain of the fast-paced, deadline-driven character of magazine work. He wrote to friend and patron Walter Arensberg in January: “I know little or nothing but my job which by this time has come to be like a daily trip to jail. It continues just as strenuous as ever, and more irksome,” and noted his frustration at having to pay attention to “whether they are wearing the bow on the right or left side this season.” However, despite his exhaustion and stress, Sheeler remained even though he had other commercial commissions that paid him well. Something about the job must have had enough appeal for him to stay on.

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Aldous Huxley, outtake, Vanity Fair, April 1927, gelatin silver print. (c) Conde Nast.

It might be that he was loosening up and beginning to enjoy his assignments and the collegiality of working with Steichen, or that he was beginning to see the work from a different perspective. That is, that he began to view his subjects not as portraits of celebrities or models dressed in the latest fashions but rather as sculptural forms, figures in carefully composed still lifes. Whenever he could—even for Vogue assignments—Sheeler sought to perfect his approach, distilling his compositions to the simplest, most precise elements and placing them against increasingly planar backgrounds. The photographs became a means to an end, an experimentation in form, geometric patterning and compositional design, and tonal values that picked up where his other work left off. These photographs reveal an increasingly sophisticated approach to fashion photography and portraiture.

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