This famous multi-panel shot, entitled “Hat Trick,” was taken by Steichen in New York in February 1931, while Charlie was in the city promoting his film City Lights and just before he left for Europe on his world tour.
The photo is described in the book Steichen’s Legacy: Photographs 1895-1973, edited with text by Joanna Steichen:
The point in the photographs of actors in this section is not individual portraiture but the story being told. Among Steichen’s favorites were Beatrice Lillie as ‘Rule Britannia’ and Charlie Chaplin. Steichen claimed that Beatrice Lillie did all the work, and all he had to do was push the button. Chaplin, however, was shy when he didn’t have an action to perform. So Steichen set up a scene consisting of a vertical panel and a horizontal one along which he moved a bowler hat a little closer to the actor with each shot. Armed with a cane as protection against the encroaching hat, Chaplin sprang to life.