The Family of Man - still on show

I have been thinking about Edward Steichen and his grand project The Family of Man many times. Steichen worked with Alfred Stieglitz at Gallery 291 in New York where he introduced his partner to artists from Europe; Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne and many others. He was also coeditor of the legendary publication Camera work. But this is another story. Read some of it in the 591 article "More than a number".

Steichen started the project of The Family of Man in 1951 and the exhibition was presented in 1955 by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His intention was originally to show 1 000 photographs on the subject and he received about 2 million pictures to chose from. The selection finally held 503 photographs by 273 photographers among them Diane Arbus, Edouard Boubat, Brassai, Harry Callahan, Helen Levitt and Lennart Nilsson.

List of photographers in alphabetic order

The real good news about this groundbreaking exhibition is that it is still on show - since 1994 it can be seen in the Château de Clervaux (Grand Duchy of Luxembourg). Many thanks to Anke Reitz for providing me with posters and pictures for this blog entry. See the web site of the museum and read more about The Family of Man in the article by Kelsey Allen below (written for 591). There are many numbers - but the world is one.- Mr Urbano

Copyright: © CNA / Raoul Somers

Lou Bernstein: untitled, 1949 © Irwin Bernstein

The Impact of Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man

Edward Steichen has been recognized as one of the most highly revered photographers of the 20th century, excelling in fashion and advertising, portraiture, nature, combat, and a short time as the director of photography for the Museum of Modern Art.

Born in Luxembourg in 1879, Steichen migrated to the United States with his parents as a toddler although he left twenty years later in order to pursue his passion for painting in Paris. This early impact of painting technique served to influence his later career as a photographer as he took to the impressionist methods in both aspects, blurring his lenses with petroleum jelly and manipulating his negatives as well.

By revolutionizing the world of photography, Steichen’s The Family of Man exhibition represented the seemingly “culmination of his career”. As director of the Department of Photography at the time of the exhibition, Steichen brought the department to new levels with his traveling exhibition that became internationally acclaimed.

The Family of Man (completed in 1955) represented 503 photographs by 273 photographers from around the world which Steichen put together in order to offer a glimpse into the human psyche and what photography does to document the universal human emotions. Chronicling opposing realms like love and death, the photos helped to prove that all humans undergo the same experiences and emotions, regardless of their nation, culture, or background.

The exhibition toured the world for eight years after its initial showing at the Museum of Modern Art, stopping in thirty-seven countries on six continents. Steichen sought to bring together the cultures which were ravaged apart after the deadliest war which the world had seen through his humanism within the photographs. The ability to capture a myriad of human emotions served to remind people around the world that we all undergo the same daily lives, suffer the same consequences, and grieve the same way throughout war.

Even though many of us at the time fought on different sides during WWII, we could all come together afterward to denounce the travesties the war brought on us. Mothers and fathers lost children on both sides of the war, and while the war represented a terrible event that was unprecedented in history, the loss of a child is a universal pain that is shared regardless of the culture.

Copyright: Eugene Harris, Popular Photography
© Violet M. Olsen, Oakland, USA

The Museum of Modern Art’s International Program was founded in 1952 in order to develop and allow exhibitions to tour the world, which is how The Family of Man was able to impact so many countries around the world. Following an era of war, a way to bring all nations together through the newest form of art was a step in the right direction to ensuring a new world in which we all recognize the shared experiences.

This text was contributed by Kelsey Allen (she has a site about art careers)


tatiana said…
Thank you for this article !
Vedres Ági said…
thanks I didn't know that.
my Brassai "Gyulus" is in it, too.