October 25, 2006

The First Picture Book, By Edward Steichen. Seriously.

steichen_childrens_book.jpgAlright, which 6 billion of you have been hiding this from me? Edward Steichen, one of the giants of modern photography, did a children's book in 1930. The First Picture Book was created under the inspiration and influence of his daughter, who was involved with promoting progressive educational theories in the US. [She apparently worked alongside Margaret Wise Brown, as in Goodnight Nothing, Goodnight Mush.]

Steichen's two volume set, written with his wife, is thought to be the first children's book to be illustrated with photography. The idea was simple: present children with recognizable objects from their world, and let them make the learning connection. Steichen's approach: shooting clear, unembellished, almost clinical, commercialist images of everyday objects, apparently wasn't too commercially successful. Unless, of course, you count the entire Dorling Kindersley My First Boardbook empire that was built around that kind of thing.

Personally, I think I'd prefer the original. Or at least the 1991 reissued version from the Whitney Museum, which I'm guessing was brought back to satisfy overreaching design snob yuppie parents who insisted on only the finest cultural influences for their children. Yeah, we've come a long way, baby.

The First Picture Book: Everyday Things for Babies, 1991, $19.95 [amazon]
Original 1930 editions will run you up to $400 for a The Firsta nd The Second set [abebooks]

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