In 2005, the artist Len Steckler lost his left eye to cancer.
What would have been a devastating blow to most people instead made Steckler more obsessed with sight. His former binocular vision became monocular, and he started to see the world with more clarity and concentration. It shows in his photography of recent years, and one can now observe more texture, intense colors, and formerly hidden shapes. Steckler brings this new dimension in a unique approach to image.
Len Steckler was born and raised in New York, was drawing by the age of five, and studied at Pratt Institute and the Art Student’s League. As a young illustrator, he won the National Academy Design Award and, after being part of the prestigious Charles Cooper studio, he gained prominence as the originator of the campaign for the first diet drink, Diet Pepsi. His illustrations appeared in all the leading magazines of the day such as, Collier’s, Good Housekeeping, The Ladies’ Home Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post. He was a member of the Society of Illustrators in New York.
While painting, he often relied on his photograph of the model for further reference, and magazine editors started to buy these photographs. Steckler studied photography with Alexy Brodovitch and Edward Steichen, Carl Sandburg’s brother-in law, who became his mentor. He phased out illustration, and in the 60’s and 70’s, Steckler became famous for his fashion and beauty photography. His work appeared in major ad campaigns for Revlon, Cover Girl, AT&T, many Proctor and Gamble products, and American Airlines, to name a few. His photographs appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and he photographed celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Carl Sandburg, Andrés Segovia, John Wayne, and Joanne Woodward. He launched the careers of young models such as Jennifer O’Neill, Susan Blakeley, Cybil Shepherd, and he worked with supermodels Suzy Parker, Verushka, and Jean Shrimpton.
Expanding his career, he started to direct, produce, and film commercials. He gained national notoriety for putting pantyhose on Joe Namath for a Hanes commercial. And his Noxema spots with the famous phrase, “Take it off, take it all off!” became a pop culture phenomenon. Steckler directed and filmed all the live segments in the EmmyTM-award winning television special, “Free To Be You and Me”, which went on to become one of the most popular and influential children’s television specials of past decades. He won numerous awards, and many of Steckler’s commercials are now part of the collection in The Paley Center for Media.
Upon moving to Los Angeles, he embarked on a career of producing and directing movies for television, using such actors as Kevin Bacon, Katherine Ross, and the late Robert Young in an EmmyTM nominated role.
In the early 90’s, during a trip to the Middle East, Steckler had an epiphany that led him to withdraw from movie projects – and he returned to his first loves: photography and painting. Steckler quickly became a collected and exhibited photographer and artist.
Whether wearing the hat of an illustrator, photographer, painter, or director, Steckler’s images challenge our often-dismissive eye to linger on imagery that speaks a world of truth and eases us into the discovery of how to ‘see’ what is beautiful and compelling in these complex times.
Len Steckler resides in Los Angeles, and continues to create and SEE every day.