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W. Eugene Smith from the book "the Family of Man."

W. Eugene Smith from the book “the Family of Man.”

By Paul Goldfinger

I posted a photograph recently which I called “Echoes: The Family of Man.”  (link to Echoes)   No one attempted to guess the origin of that reference.

In 1955, a photography exhibit was mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  It was curated by Edward Steichen, the Director of Photography at MOMA and a famous photographer in his own right.   The Family of Man was the largest and most popular photographic exhibit in history. Steichen requested and received 2 million images from photographers all over the world.  Eventually he chose 503 photos by 273 photographers (168 Americans) from 68 countries.

By the time the exhibit ended, it had been seen by over 250,000 people. It then went on a world tour, and by the time that ended in 1961, it had been viewed by 9 million people.  The theme of the exhibit, according to Steichen, was to “prove visually the universality of human experience and photography’s role in its documentation.”

“Among the themes that were covered were birth, love, joy, war, privation, illness and death.” (Wickipedia) images

Steichen published a book from the exhibit, and over 4 million copies have been sold (I have two of them.)

The image on the last page of the book showed two small children walking hand in hand through a canopy of trees.  It was shot from the rear and was taken by the famous American photographer W. Eugene Smith. There was a quotation with the photograph which said, “..a world to be born under your footsteps.”   That quote was by the French poet Saint-John Perse (1887-1975) who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1960.

W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978) was a photojournalist from Kansas who was famous for covering the brutal war  (WWII) in the Pacific.   Some years later he became better known for his photo essay about the fetal damage and deaths related to mercury contaminated water by local industry  in the town of Minamata, Japan. For his award winning work, he was badly beaten by corporate goons.

"Migrant Mother" from the exhibit. by Dorothea Lange, 1936

“Migrant Mother” from the exhibit. by Dorothea Lange, 1936

Not to compare myself to Smith, but my photograph reminded me of those two kids walking in the woods. All artists are influenced by those who preceded them.  (see the Atget article above on Blogfinger)

From the Minamata exhibit by W. Eugene Smith.

From the Minamata exhibit by W. Eugene Smith.

SOUNDTRACK:   Andrei’s Theme by Armand Amar.  From the film  “The Concert.”

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