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“People looked at the pictures, and the people in the pictures looked back at them. They recognized each other." Edward Steichen

Photographs of war have their own controversial nature while they make us see the tragedy. In 1955, 10 years after World War II ended but while the Cold War was underway, a huge photography exhibit was mounted.  The photographs reached across the world to suggest a familial bond. While some saw it as sentimentalism, perhaps it was also the kind of exhibit needed at that time. 

In January 1955, The Family of Man (click to see installation views) photo exhibit opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  It was conceived as a manifesto for peace and equality of mankind, achieved through “humanist photography” of the post war years.  It was curated by Edward Steichen, the photographer and director of the Museum of Modern Art's (MoMA) Department of Photography at the time. He chose the photographs according to their capacity to communicate. Steichen's stated objective was to draw attention, visually, to the universality of human experience and the role of photography in its documentation.

The Family of Man featured a total of 503 images, from 68 countries all of which were described by Steichen with the following statement:
“These photographs are a mirror of the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world. Photographs made in all parts of the world, of the gamut of life from birth to death.”

The physical installation and layout of the Family of Man enabled the visitor to view it as if they were immersed in a photo-essay about human development and cycles of life. It was designed to affirm a common human identity and destiny against the Cold War and threats of nuclear war.

Hailed as the most successful exhibition of photography ever put together – the press claimed that more than a quarter of a million people saw it in New York. It gained its central role in the history of twentieth century photography largely because of its international exposure. The U.S. Information Agency popularized The Family of Man as an achievement of American culture by presenting ten different versions of the show in 91 cities in 38 countries between 1955 and 1962, seen by an estimated nine million people.

Some photographers thought the exhibit downplayed individual talent and discouraged the public from accepting photography as art.  Many critics dismissed the exhibition as a form of sentimental humanism unable to address the challenges of history, politics and cultural difference.  Walker Evans disdained its human familyhood and bogus heart feelingness.  Phoebe Lou Adams complained that "If Mr. Steichen's well-intentioned spell doesn't work, it can only be because he has been so intent on Mankind's physical similarities that...he has utterly forgotten that a family quarrel can be as fierce as any other kind” Allan Sekula viewed the exhibition as a populist archive and “the epitome of American cold war liberalism” that “universalizes the bourgeois nuclear family” and therefore serves as an instrument of cultural colonialism. Ariella Azoulay argued that the exhibition can be viewed a visual equivalent to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
Today, the exhibit lives on at Clervaux Castle in Luxembourg where the images are displayed in a way that follows the layout of the original exhibition at MoMA, recreating the original experience and the effects images had on viewers back in the day. Watch the YouTube video here

“the art of photography is a dynamic process of giving form to ideas and of explaining man to man…a mirror of essential oneness of mankind throughout the world”


Behind the Scenes: Editing 
wo million photographs were submitted to Steichen for the Family of Man Exhibit.  He and his team at MOMA edited down to 10,000 possible images, and finally cut it down to 503 images, representing 293 photographers (163 Americans) from 68 countries. That's a lot of images left on the cutting room floor. For photographers, we go through a similar process -- make photos, winnow them down and then let others see them.  A process of Delete, Keep, Share.  The Roadside America project includes about 7000 images of raw material. Here are a few to share.  You can see more in the books and on the website in color or black and white infrared.

And, if you ever see an image you are interested in, whether that be on Instagram or in the newsletter, don't hesitate to reach out and inquire.  For example, one person recently inquired about pictures of barns. I went through the photo archives and pulled together a number of different barn pictures for them to choose from. 

Binhammer Photographs Website
Hoping your spring is off to a great start.  Maybe, you are planning summer adventures? Soco the traveling dog joins me in saying hello.  We are expecting to make some photography trips through the region over the next few weeks.
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