Photography and FORTUNE: The Practitioners' Evidence .
Ralph Steiner's portrait of Ernest Breech of Ford.

I wrote to Ralph Steiner asking him for his memories of this photograph which in all the challenges to the stereotypes of the way business folk are represented, must be seen as a major innovation. Always trying keep a certain academic coolness, I couldn't conceal from him my vast admiration for this photograph. He wrote the first of a charming and witty series of letters.

"When I began photographing the BIG MEN for Fortune I was a bit timid, and Walker [Evans] had no advice. Never came in when I photographed. I'm a person who amuses himself when he photographs, so when the big executive tries to hide behind his desk ( 'Ein Feste Berg' ) I'd say Fortune will not use such a picture, and I'll get fired. No matter how important, they want that full page in color in Fortune. So I had a lever to make them stand on the cow catcher of a locomotive or whatever. Breech of Ford came to the office in a light suit. I needed a dark one to make him stand out. His male secretary was scared to death to ask him to send home for a dark suit, so I called Breech's wife to ask her to send one in one of the 30 Ford cars they must have had. I had the idea of that little powerhouse as Napoleon in front of his tomb in Paris (Invalides?) I told him to put his hands on his hips, which he was willing to do - eager. "


FULL TEXTS AND IMAGES of correspondence with Ralph Steiner


a more corporate image of Ernest Breech 'Ford's New Managers' 1953(click)



Ernest Breech (1897-1978) was credited with the complete overhaul of the FORD empire after the Second World War. Trained as an accountant, he came to General Motors' Bendix Division with the acquisition of the Yellow Cab Company. In 1946 he became Executive Vice-President at Ford, vying for the Chairman's attention with Robert McNamara. Much of his sharp assertiveness is kindled in Steiner's photograph, particularly in the stance and the expression that pierces any space between viewer and sitter. His boss Henry Ford 'found him to be a brilliant strategist with a tremendous competitive spirit and a dedication to match...He was also my friend.' He was to become Chairman of the Board in 1955 until 1960 when he was sacked by Henry Ford II after 15 years close collaboration. Every Napoleon meets his own sort of Waterloo, albeit he was to go on exercise his organisational skills at TWA.

See J.M.Hickerson, The Story of his Remarkable Career at General Motors, Ford and TWA, Meredith Press, New York, 1968