Photographer Edward Steichen was a pioneer in aerial intelligence during the first World War and served as the Director of the Naval Aviation Photographic unit during World War II. He is also widely credited as defining American fashion and portrait photography while working for Vogue and Vanity Fair in the years following World War I. With a reputation as one of the world’s great imagery artists, Steichen was an Academy Award-winning documentarian and Director of the Department of Photography at New York’s world-renowned Museum of Modern Art.
Commissioned in the Army, he deployed with the American Expeditionary Force to France in 1917. Steichen eventually commanded a reconnaissance unit on the Western Front consisting of 55 officers and 1,111 enlisted soldiers. Before America’s two years of war concluded, Steichen had implemented image gathering and overnight processing procedures that could daily place, on demand, as many as 4,000 black-and-white prints of the Western Front before the AEF leadership.
Aerial photographs not only revealed troop movements and enhanced cartographic services but also offered more reliable battle-damage assessments based upon images captured before and after bombardment from the air or by artillery. Steichen and his staff helped military leaders standardize many other techniques, including the use of multiple images to produce three-dimensional effects, enhancing detection further.
At the age of 61, Steichen served in World War II as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, heading up the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit. His war documentary, "The Fighting Lady," which chronicled the crew of the U.S.S. Yorktown aircraft carrier, won the 1944 Academy Award for Best Documentary. In 1963, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President John F. Kennedy – the highest civilian award in the United States.