PRINT December 1975

The Instrumental Image: Steichen at War


LET’S BEGIN WITH THE artifacts. For several months now, an envelope full of copies of aerial reconnaissance photographs has been propped up against a concrete block of my bookshelf. They are examples of what might be termed a genre of “applied photography.” In three successive frames a farmhouse, viewed from directly above, is reduced to something less substantial than rubble. A landscape is partially obscured by clouds, smoke, and the out-of-focus strut of an airplane wing. In another picture, bombs hover in the foreground above an equally indistinct terrain. The shadow of a biplane is fixed against the outer wall of a chateau. A low sun illuminates one side of snow-filled craters; a ruined town is barely discernible among the drifts and shadows. And so on.

But literary descriptions of these photographs fail to explain how their meaning relates to the ways they have been used, or how

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