What is Family of Man (FOM) about and why is this exhibition so important and innovative?
The Family of Man is an heritage photography collection that is today listed on the UNESCO World heritage register, reflecting a time – the 1950ies – but having an universal purpose and a peaceful message.
Edward Steichen organised this exhibition for 25th anniversary of the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1955, collecting millions of pictures from international photographers that are today world-wild known: Robert Frank, Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, August Sander, … . He selected 503 pictures from 273 photographers from 68 countries that are arranged thematically in a surprising modernist scenography.
Steichen was relying on the power of photography and emotions to communicate through pictures and show the common bonds of men and women all over the world.
After its first showing in New York, the exhibition travelled the US and the world in over 150 museums with a record audience of 10 million visitors.
The ambition of Edward Steichen’s world-embracing project and the scope of the travelling exhibitions made the exhibition a legend in the history of photography and up until today it is subject of countless reactions and discussions.
Luxembourg is a country where lots of nationalities live together in the same place. Diversity (as a meaning of understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences) here in Luxembourg represents a very important part of the State and maybe it is the richness of this beautiful country.
Do you think that this same feeling is reflected in the FOM? Which was the meaning of this exhibition?
Yes, indeed. Sameness within diversity and the respect of diversity are the key words for The Family of Man and it is vital for living in our societies today.
In the midst of the Cold War and after the two World Wars - that he documented as a photographer - it was important for Steichen to focus on what connects humans and that we all have things to share within our differences.
Of course, The Family of Man is a Western view on the world in the 1950ies, but it is a valuable call for respect of the other, whoever he may be. And we see in our visitors that they still respond to that idea today; this issue remains contemporary whatever period you live in.
Why did you decided to display the FOM in Clervaux and not in Luxembourg Ville, a more comfortable place to reach and where you can find more tourists?
In fact, it was not our decision, but Edward Steichen’s: The Family of Man came to Luxembourg as a gift from the American government in the mid 1960ies. Steichen visiting the country in 1966 expressed the wish to have the FOM, what he considered the most important work of his career, displayed in the charming castle he discovered during his visit in Clervaux.
Why do you suggest people living here in Luxembourg to come and visit the FOM ?
The Family of Man talks to everyone – not only to photography lovers – and it is a milestone for the exhibition's interior design concept. It has so many angles from which you may look at it that you can even visit 5 times and at every visit, you will discover something new: new faces, new perspectives and new memories depending on your own mood. You may see it, as they advertised the exhibition in the 1950ies, “with your heart” and feel embraced in this view of humankind, being reminded by the photos of those you have in your family album.
Or you may approach the collection through its history as a document of time still preserving questions for our societies today.
Interview by Francesca Vantellini, photographer, photo restorer and member of the JUST ARRIVED ambassadors Club.
Photographs: courtesy of © The Family of Man.