Edward Steichen’s “The Family of Man”

By Liza G.

Edward Steichen’s “The Family of Man”

After the WWII world needed something to get hold of, something to believe in. It urged for moral resurrection and a faith in the better future to overcome all horrors of the war time. Photography experienced many changes during the war, but it was no stranger to all of the above-mentioned tendencies. 

The exhibition “The Family of Man” came out just in the right time, in 1955. Curated by the famous American photographer of the Luxembourgish ancestry Edward Steichen, it had become one of the most famous photo exhibitions in the history. After the original showing in the MoMA, it had visited 37 countries on 6 continents, and had been seen by more than nine million people. The historical value of this photo collection was recognized by UNESCO; the organization also added it to The Memory of the World Register.

Edward Steichen gathered numerous photographers under one idea of the unity of all people in the world; he made an accent on the humanism and the binding, on the equality of all our experiences. No matter who we are and where we are - we are together on this planet, we are family. 

Steichen designed the innovative way to exhibit the collection in order to create the story line of major events in human life. Visitors could decide which way should they go and what part of exhibition to explore. Photos were gathered according to the topics and related to each other to build up a narrative. The placing was also an unusual choice; pictures were even displayed on the ceiling.

“The Family of Man” had a huge impact on the world of Photography and basically served as a special turning point for it. However, it had also received some criticism. Steichen was criticized for minimizing the individual roles of the participating photographers and taking credit for the work he hadn’t done. Also, he was accused of the over-dramatization of historical events, sentimentalism, ignorance of such problems as racism and discrimination. 

But despite all harsh criticism for being quite hypocritical, the exhibition gave people what they needed the most at that period of time. The project is not perfect, but it had set up high standards in the photography art and curating, and gave out the important message - we are together on this planet, and we should care for each other no matter what. 



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