How To Make A Giant, Steichen-Style Photomural

Thumbnail image for moma_rd_victory3.jpg

Looking through the installation photos for Road To Victory, Edward Steichen's 1942 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, I find myself asking two things:

Who took these photos, and how did they make them? [Of course, my real question is usually, Where are they now, which really means, where can I get some? But anyway.]

The first question turns out to be harder to answer than I thought. The MoMA Bulletin for the show states that over 90% of the images are from government agencies, military sources, or wire service/news agencies, but they lack any credit line. It's slightly amusing that most of the photocredits in the Bulletin turn out to be for the installation photos, not the subject photo murals themselves. If Edward Steichen and Carl Sandburg are the creators of Road To Victory: The Propaganda Artwork, then Samuel H. Gottscho is a rephotographing appropriation artist 40 years ahead of Richard Prince. I'll have to do some digging for an image checklist in the exhibition's archives.


As for how these things were made, though, there is actually a footnote for that. And the answer is surprisingly painterly:

To make the large murals, the negatives were enlarged in sections upon strips of photographic paper forty inches wide. The museum wall was first sized, then covered with a layer of wallpaper, next with one of cloth, and then the photographs were pasted on the cloth by paper hangers. The seams were lightly airbrushed, imperfections were retouched by hand, and finally the whole mural was painted with dull varnish to eliminate the glaring reflections rendered by the surface of photographic paper.
Fascinating. Photo wallpaper? Overpainted photomurals?

While large prints in the show were mounted on boards, and some murals were affixed to freestanding walls and panels, others were applied straight to the museum's walls. Given the anonymity of the images, I'm going to guess that approximately none of these prints or murals survived the exhibition, much less the war.

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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first published: February 26, 2011.

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