Why JP Morgan Looks So Mean
He got ticked off at the photographer shooting it
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 2, 2011 11:34 AM CST
The 1903 photograph of JP Morgan, shot by Edward Steichen.   (Edward Steichen/Wikimedia Commons)

(Newser) – The photograph that's become the defining image of 19th-century financial titan JP Morgan makes him look almost a caricature of a hard-hearted robber-baron. As Smithsonian magazine explains, part of the reason is simple: After the young photographer shot a photo of Morgan in his usual pose, he had the nerve to ask the busy man to shift position for another. Morgan complied, but became clearly aggravated.

“His expression had sharpened and his body posture became tense,” recalled Edward Steichen in his autobiography. “I saw that a dynamic self-assertion had taken place.” Steichen quickly took the photo, and Morgan hated the result—he tore up the proof then tried unsuccessfully to buy the print. Steichen always denied touching up the image to accentuate the negative (including an optical illusion that makes Morgan look like he's holding a dagger in his left hand). His backers say it's simply an example of what every good photographer strives to do: reveal character.